Will Senator Feinstein Call for an Investigation of the White House?

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On Sunday, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said whoever leaked the underwear bomber story must be prosecuted. Does that include White House officials?

We ask because today we learned that the White House may have inadvertently leaked details leading to the disclosure of the joint U.S.-British-Saudi sting operation that foiled al Qaeda's latest underwear bomb plot. It's an uncomfortable revelation for some Democrats who demanded the prosecution of the leaker—the most prominent being Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein. "The leak really did endanger sources and methods," she said on Fox News Sunday. "The leak, I think, has to be prosecuted."  We've placed a query to the senator's office asking if she'll call to extend the current investigation of the leak to the White House. (Currently, the investigation ordered by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper only covers the 16 agencies he controls, not the White House or National Security Council.)

The reason this particular leak has been so widely-criticized is because it cut short an incredibly daring and successful intelligence operation: The infiltration of al Qaeda's Yemen branch. Once U.S. headlines screamed that the U.S. had a spy inside al Qaeda's branch, the operation had to be shut down.

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Reuters' Mark Hosenball reported that top White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan played a role in putting the "double agent" story in motion when he held a private teleconference with former counter-terrorism advisers who now moonlight as TV talking heads. Prior to the May 7 phone call, the most anybody knew was that an al Qaeda bomb plot had been foiled. Easing fears, Brennan "stressed that the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had 'inside control' over it," Hosenball reports. The use of the phrase "inside control" gave the TV talking heads all they needed to fuel the story of a double agent.

Hours after the phone call, Richard Clarke, former chief of counter-terrorism in the Clinton White House and a member of the teleconference, went on air saying: "The U.S. government is saying it never came close because they had insider information, insider control, which implies that they had somebody on the inside who wasn't going to let it happen." From there, the story only got bigger. 

The White House denies that Brennan is responsible for the leak, pinning the blame squarely on the Associated Press. But, as Hosenball notes, there's a problem with that claim. "The original AP story ... made no mention of an undercover informant or allied 'control' over the operation, indicating only that the fate of the would-be suicide bomber was unknown." 

Is that enough evidence to definitively blame the White House? No. But for Feinstein, and other members of Congress who cruised the Sunday talk circuit making a big deal about the leaks, it sounds like enough to investigate. We'll update if/when Feinstein's office responds.
Update: Sen. Feinstein won't be making any moves just yet. Her spokesman Brian Wiess e-mails:

“Senator Feinstein called for a criminal investigation into this leak.  FBI Director Mueller told her this week during a Judiciary Committee hearing that an investigation is underway.  She is satisfied that the matter is being taken seriously, and she awaits the results of the investigation.”


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