On Monday night, as authorities closed in on terrorism suspect Faisal Shahzad, websites and TV networks began to report than an arrest of a Pakistani-American was imminent. Inside the Justice Department's command bunker, Attorney General Eric Holder, normally a chill dude, was visibly angry -- and anxious.
Justice officials were already fuming over reports, leaked earlier in the day, that the suspect was a naturalized American citizen of Pakistani descent. They believe that Shahzad read these reports, knew he was in trouble, and made plans to flee.
Not knowing if Shahzad might have decided to turn into a suicide bomber or whether he was armed, the leaks put FBI agents trying to track him at great risk, according to a senior Justice Department official. Where did the leaks come from? Federal officials insist that the FBI and Justice's National Security Division were tight-lipped and blamed the New York Police Department. The NYPD, in turn, fingered the FBI. "The sad truth," a senior law enforcement official said this morning, "is that the leaks were from law enforcement themselves -- the NYPD and FBI fighting for credit."
I myself may have contributed to the danger, posting an unclassified DHS summary of evidence collected at the scene, which noted that the Vehicle Identification Number can be found in more than one place on the car. Shahzadhad scratched out the prominent VIN on the dashboard of his Pathfinder.
Today, Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security committee, wrote to the attorney general and demanded an investigation into the leaks. That's a bit rich. Mr. King is suspected by the Obama administration of being a prolific -- if not leaker, then chatterer -- about ongoing investigations. (Administration officials directly complained to King that his comments about particular details of Najibullah Zazi were compromising their investigation. King's private retort was that the administration was embarrassed that it nearly missed catching a would-be suicide bomber.)
Said King today: " ... [h]ad Shahzad been watching news reports on May
3rd that the FBI was in hot pursuit of a Pakistan born naturalized
American citizen residing in Bridgeport, CT it could well have caused
him to attempt to evade capture by going to the airport to leave the
country. In any event, I find this systemic leaking to be deeply
troubling and criminally negligent."Shahzad was
not classified. It was marked "Law Enforcement Sensitive" and "For
Official Use Only." Investigative summaries were circulated throughout
the government, which is something one would expect and want to happen.
Also, some officials were eager to make sure that the public knew that
their agencies were making progress on the investigation. A detail
thrown out here and there provided the impression of momentum.
When authorities knew they had Shahzad, the Justice Department's press office notified Fox News, which was on pool duty, that the attorney general planned to hold a press conference at 1:00 in the morning, and DoJ asked Fox not to report the fact of the news conference. They didn't. Neither did any of the networks privy to the pool.
An investigation isn't likely. Most information about