June 11, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Dylan Byers:
Caught in the crosshairs of a contentious dispute between the White House and Congress, The New York Times is vowing to charge ahead with its coverage of developments in U.S. national security – and denying that the paper is on the receiving end of silver-platter leaks from the Obama administration.
“These are some of the most significant developments in national security in a generation,” Times managing editor Dean Baquet told POLITICO on Thursday, referring to his paper’s recent reports on the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes and cyberattacks. “We’re going to keep doing these stories.”
Following Sen. John McCain’s demand for an independent investigation into White House security leaks, Republicans and Democrats on both the House and Senate intelligence committees issued a joint statement on Wednesday calling on the Obama administration “to fully, fairly and impartially investigate” whether or not administration officials were responsible for leaking information that appeared in the recent Times’ articles.
But the fact that the White House has not raised complaints about the Times’ reports further stokes congressional concern that the administration was somehow involved in leaking the stories.
Baquet rebutted those accusations, saying his reporters came by the stories “strenuously.”
“I can’t believe anybody who says these are leaks,” he said. “Read those stories. They are so clearly the product of tons and tons of reporting.”
Nonetheless, suggestions of wrongdoing extended to the Times itself on Wednesday, when Democratic Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned whether the paper of record put American security at risk by publishing new revelations about drone strikes against Al Qaeda operatives and the Stuxnet cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“I personally think there is a serious question whether or not that served our interest and whether the public had to know,” Kerry told reporters. “To me it was such a nitty-gritty fundamental national security issue. And I don’t see how the public interest is well served by it. I do see how other interests outside the United States are well served by it.”
On Thursday, Baquet strongly rejected Kerry’s suggestion that the stories didn’t serve the public interest.
“With all due respect to Sen. Kerry, we publish these stories because they are significant,” Baquet said. “History will say that the development of drones was one the most significant events in history of modern warfare and national security. I can’t imagine anything more worthy of public discussion.”
While stressing that the Times alone is responsible for what it chooses to publish, Baquet also reiterated the point made earlier this week by Times reporter David Sanger, author of the Stuxnet article, that the paper brought these articles to the government’s attention prior to their publication and complied with a request to omit specific “highly technical details.”
“Sen. Kerry is right that the Times made the decision to publish this stuff. The White House did not make that decision,” Baquet said. “We make those decisions ourselves, we never ask for a green light.”
Despite the bipartisan call, there is still a fair chance that no official investigation will take place. Though President Obama has launched twice as many leak-related criminal prosecutions as all past administrations combined, the White House has been largely silent on the Times’ recent reports. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that “any suggestion that this administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible.”
Earlier this week, the FBI launched its own investigation to determine who disclosed information relating to the U.S. cyberattack program, though the Bureau has declined to comment on specific details.
Baquet says the paper takes the prospect of an investigation very seriously, noting that it already has two reporters involved in cases involving leaks. “We don’t relish this,” he said.
That said, the Times role at the center of this debate does bring national attention to the strength of the paper’s national security reporting. The report on drone strikes and Obama’s so-called “Kill List,” is a perfect example.
That story, by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, ran one day after a very similar story in Newsweek by Daniel Klaidman, who has been working on a book about Obama’s national security for almost two years. (Shane acknowledged Wednesday that the Times moved publication of its story forward after Klaidman’s own piece appeared in Newsweek.) Nevertheless, it is Becker and Shane’s story — not Klaidman’s — that has joined Sanger’s Stuxnet story at center-stage in the Senate’ debate.
It is, in part, the concurrence of these stories that has raised Senators’ concerns to such a high level.
“What we’re seeing…is an Anschluss, an avalanche of leaks,” Sen. Diane Feinstein told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday, voicing frustration.
“If you pick up Bob Woodward’s books, and [David] Sanger is a damn good reporter and David Ignatius and these guys, they get a lot of people talking about things they shouldn’t be talking about, and it always amazes me,” Kerry told CNN’s Ted Barrett.
For Baquet, his greatest frustration with all this is the way politicians and other media outlets have focused on the sources of the information, rather than what the reports reveal about American national security.
“It’s interesting the way Washington works,” he said. “Some might say — I won’t attribute this to myself — but some might say that people are debating the wrong subjects here. The most important issue is national security. So it’s interesting that public officials are debating the timing and politics of stories as opposed to those details.”
“This country is in the middle of two wars, Syria is exploding as you and I speak on the phone —” he said, then cut himself off. “I don’t think there is anything more important than national security.”