Whoever Leaked the Underwear Bomber Story Ought to Be Nervous

The heat is on a U.S. official responsible for leaking details of al Qaeda's disrupted bomb plot to the Associated Press.

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The heat is on a U.S. official responsible for leaking details of al Qaeda's disrupted bomb plot to the Associated Press.

On the Sunday talk shows, high-ranking officials in both chambers of Congress across both parties called for investigations and the prosecution of the man or woman who leaked details about the infiltration of al Qaeda's Yemen branch. Unlike previous situations, where government crackdowns on leakers has been criticized, this appears to be a fairly clear-cut case of improper leaking.

The mission, which resulted in the recovery of a sophisticated underwear bomb, was leaked to the AP before it was completed, according to members of Congress sitting on intelligence committees. Because successfully infiltrating al Qaeda is so rare, leaks can be especially damaging for undercover agents who risked their lives to gain the enemy's trust. It was a case powerful members of Congress were making loud and clear yesterday.

Senator Dianne Feinstein. On Fox News Sunday, the California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee called for a prosecution of the leaker. “This leak was serious,” she said. “It certainly jeopardizes our ability to relate to other countries and for other countries to help us, and it gives a tip off [to al Qaeda in Yemen] to be more careful about who they use as their couriers, as their bombers.” Feinstein said the leak "did endanger sources and methods, and the leak I think has to be prosecuted.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Peter King. Appearing together on CNN's State of the Union, the two hawkish lawmakers called the leak a criminal act. "This really is criminal in the literal sense of the word to leak out this type of sensitive, classified information on really almost unparalleled penetration of the enemy,” said King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. While Lieberman went into detail about the rarity of the CIA infiltration, King echoed Feinstein's claim that the mission was truncated by the leak. “[It] caused the operation to be cut short before it could get all the information that could have been gotten,” he said. 

Rep. Mike Rogers. The most serious allegations came from Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on CBS's Face the Nation. Going a step further, Rogers insinuated that the leaks came from the White House, in order to generate positive press for the Obama administration. "We do know that the CIA was trying to stop the story. And we know that there was a scheduled White House - or at least planned press conference on the particular event, and those two disparate positions leads one to believe that ... someone was at odds about how much they should or shouldn't talk about it," Rogers said. Making it clear this was about the presidential elections, he added "This is not anything that should be used for a headline. Our national security should be exempt from any November at any time in any year."

Whether or not the leaker can be identified is yet to be seen. A Sunday editorial in The New York Post laments that the the internal review ordered by director of National Intelligence James Clapper will not include the White House or the National Security Council, "so there’s a good chance the leakers won’t face a bit of heat," the paper writes. It may be possible that a congressional investigation could have more luck identifying the leaker but how invasive that investigation will be is not yet known. “We will make a determination -- either a full-blown committee investigation or we’ll refer it to criminal charges to the FBI,” Rogers said on CBS.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.