Intelligence leaders push back against leakers, media
Top intelligence officials in the Obama administration and Congress are pushing back against journalists responsible for revealing the existence of sensitive surveillance programs and calling for an investigation into who leaked the information.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in an interview late Saturday that the National Security Agency has launched a Justice Department investigation into the leaks to determine who is responsible.
But he also sought to spotlight the media who first reported the programs, calling their disclosures irresponsible and full of “hyperbole.” Earlier Saturday, he had issued a statement accusing the media of a “rush to publish.”
“For me, it is literally – not figuratively – literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities,” Clapper told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
On Sunday morning, Clapper got some backup from the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who appeared jointly on ABC’s “This Week” to espouse the values of the programs.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) had harsh words for whoever is responsible for the leaks, and for the journalist who first reported the NSA’s collection of phone records, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald.
“He doesn’t have a clue how this thing works; nether did the person who released just enough information to literally be dangerous,” Rogers said, adding, “I absolutely think (the leaker) should be prosecuted.”
Greenwald, who appeared earlier on the same show, said the secrecy is the reason the programs must be laid bare. He also said that he is planning to reveal more information about the administration’s surveillance programs. He said he has not been contacted by investigators.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) agreed that whoever leaked the information should be prosecuted, and she sought to beat back media reports that suggest the Obama administration over-played the impact of the programs.
After opponents of the programs questioned their value last week, anonymous administration officials pointed to the thwarting of a bomb plot targeting the New York City subway system in 2009. Soon after, though, reporters including BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith noted that public documents suggested regular police work was responsible for thwarting the attack rather than a secret government intelligence program.
Feinstein confirmed that the programs were invaluable in both the New York case and another one involving an American plotting to bomb a hotel in India in 2008.
“One of them is the case of David Headley, who went to Mumbai to the Taj (Mahal) Hotel and scoped it out for the terrorist attack,” Feinstein said. “The second is Najibullah Zazi, who lived in Colorado, who made the decision that he was going to blow up a New York subway.”
Feinstein noted that she could talk about those two cases because they have been declassified, but she suggested the surveillance programs also assisted in other terrorism-related cases.
That explanation wasn’t enough to satisfy some critics of the programs. Her Senate Intelligence Committee colleague, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), agreed that the so-called PRISM program ? which taps into the Internet usage of foreigners ? has “been very effective.” But he said the collection of Americans’ phone metadata has not proven so.
“It’s unclear to me that we’ve developed any intelligence through the metadata program that’s led to the disruption of plots that we couldn’t obtain through other programs,” Udall said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Udall and two Democrats from Oregon ? Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley ? have emerged as key voices critical of the phone record collection.
Another chief critic of the efforts, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said he is looking at filing a lawsuit against the government and called on Americans to join in.
“I’m going to be asking all the Internet providers and all of the phone companies, ask your customers to join me in a class action lawsuit,” Paul said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If we get 10 million Americans saying we don’t want our phone records looked at then somebody will wake up and say things will change in Washington.