NEW YORK –- The Justice Department cracked down on the Associated Press by secretly seizing journalist phone records in trying to find the sources of a 2012 report on a CIA-thwarted terrorist plot in Yemen.
The AP’s Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman initially held that story on an al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot at the government's request before publishing only after sources confirmed it had been foiled. But while investigators pounced on the AP's reporting after an AQAP plot was thwarted, there’s been no similar response to reports before a possible attack involving the same terrorist faction.
The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that U.S. intelligence had intercepted a terrorist conference call which included al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, attributing the information to “three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.” One U.S. intelligence officer likened the terrorist group to the "Legion of Doom."
Goldman, the AP reporter, tweeted Wednesday that he “couldn't imagine anything more sensitive than a leak in which it was revealed the NSA was monitoring Ayman al-Zawahiri communications.”
“Why isn't Congress clamoring for a leak investigation?” he asked in another tweet.
The Daily Beast story advanced the ongoing coverage of a terror threat that led to the closing of U.S. embassies abroad. McClatchy reported Sunday that the embassy closings were prompted by an intercept between Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi -- names that CNN and the New York Times originally held in reports on the intercept, but later published. That additional intercept detail followed government officials talking to reporters about terrorist “chatter” and intercepts revealing plans for a “strategically significantly” attack.
It's not unusual for administrations to leak information when in their interest, while criticizing unsanctioned disclosures. But the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit of leakers and unprecedented use of the Espionage Act to target media sources makes it even more susceptible to charges of a double standard. The DOJ quickly decided to investigate recent, unsanctioned NSA leaks, later revealed to be from former contractor Edward Snowden, who now faces espionage charges.
The seeming lack of administration outcry over the latest leaks hasn't gone unnoticed among journalists.
During Tuesday's State Department briefing, a reporter asked spokeswoman Jen Psaki if there was any frustration about the leaking of intercepted al-Qaeda communications.
“Well, I would just broadly say that obviously when sensitive information is -- is provided, without speaking to this specific case,” Psaki said. “Obviously, that's always a concern to us.”
“So, no outrage?” a reporter asked.
“I don't have anything more for you on it than that,” she responded.
On Tuesday, New York Rep. Peter King, a Republican lawmaker who has harshly condemned past national security leaks and has called for arresting journalists from the New York Times and The Guardian, appeared unbothered when MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asked if he'd be wrong to say that al-Zawahiri was on the intercept. "Joe, you're almost never wrong," King responded.
Some lawmakers have suggested the leaks could jeopardize national security, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), along with the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes.
But there hasn't been widespread calls for investigations, as in past national security leaks. Like Goldman, the AP's Apuzzo also questioned the government's response to the al-Qaeda leak as compared to its past leak crackdowns.
“We now know, in real time, that US monitored heads of AQAP and AQ,” Apuzzo tweeted Monday. “And nobody's crying leak investigation. Why? Because it served a purpose.”
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