In the previous post I wrote about how the NY Slimes had blown a sting operation against Al Qaeda. I've had a few more thoughts about this based on the coverage of this leak such as this MSNBC article, which states in part:
But Pakistani intelligence courses have said that the al-Qaida suspect named by U.S. officials as the source of information that led to the heightened state of alert was working undercover. By naming the suspect, the United States forced Pakistan to put an end to the sting operation and forced it to hide the man in a secret location.
Under pressure to justify the alerts, U.S. officials confirmed a report by The New York Times that the man, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, was the source of the intelligence that led to the decision.
A Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters on Friday that Khan, who was arrested in Lahore secretly last month, had been actively cooperating with intelligence agents to help catch al-Qaida operatives when his name appeared in U.S. newspapers.
Monday evening, after Khan’s name appeared, Pakistani officials moved him to a secret location.
This part makes it clear just how serious the breach was and provides explanation as to why it occured. Another article, this time from Reuters, makes very similar case for why the leak occured but has some distinctly iffy reasoning at the end:
Although the casing reports were mostly several years old, U.S. officials said they acted urgently because of separate intelligence suggesting an increased likelihood of attacks in the runup to the presidential election in November. U.S. officials now say Hindi, one of the suspects arrested after Khan's name was compromised, may have been the head of the team that cased those buildings. But the Pakistani disclosure that Khan was under cover suggests that the cell had been infiltrated, and was under surveillance at the time Washington ordered the orange alert. The security experts said that under such circumstances it would be extraordinary to issue a public warning, because of the risk of tipping off the cell that it had been compromised.
It occurs to me that this is a little simplistic. Despite the terrorists being under suveillance it would be extraordinarily risky to not warn specific targets of the threat. Why? because of the likely public response if the terrorists actually mounted an operation. Given all the noise about Sept 11 and possible prior knowledge there is no way that any administration would be willing to not issue any warning.
Hence in my opinion, the warning was issued in a way that seemed to deliberately disguise the date and source of the intelligence. This warning attempted to strike a balance between the public's need to know and the need to protect the ongoing sting. However commentators from within the media and Democratic Party (and elsewhere too) immediately criticised the warning as being for purely partisan reasons, worthless etc. etc. when in fact it was rather more than that. I am guessing that, as MSNBC says, some official(s) somewhere was sufficiently worried about this, because the warning was in fact based on more just "old information", and decided to leak to the NY Slimes the real truth.
Now if the reason for doing this was that they/he just wanted the NY Slimes to print news items that stopped denigrating the warning and gave the background information about the Khan arrest solely as context not expecting it to be published (possibly even saying that it wasn't for publication) then the NY Slimes is guilty of treason or aiding the enemy by publishing the information.
Alternatively it could be that the official was just trying to counter the negative spin and failed to consider that announcing Khan's arrest would bring the sting to an end. In such a case it is the official who needs to be punished because he leaked information for purely partisan reasons that impacted an anti-terrorism operation.
At this point we don't know which of these hypotheses is true (if either is) but I suspect that the root cause of the leak was precisely due to the general poo-pooing of the original warning. And that can squarely be blamed on the Mainstream Media and the Democratic Party. Given the hullabaloo over the Plame/Wilson affair I am amazed that this leak isn't getting the same level of attention since it would seem to have caused far more potential harm.
Update: Kevin Drum seems to be asking the right questions