Civil libertarians, journalists and others are understandably outraged by the recent news of a DOJ investigation that included obtaining AP writers’ phone records. It’s skating on thin constitutional ice to have government agents investigating whom members of a free press contact and when, and it merits careful oversight to avoid abuses. Nevertheless, based on what we know to date, I think the DOJ did the right thing, and here’s why:
This wasn’t a leak about some garden-variety (pun intended) pot-growing or cocaine-smuggling operation getting busted, or even a bribery scandal involving high-ranking public officials. It didn’t involve “whistle-blowing” on any wrongful government behavior. This leak reportedly related to the successful infiltration of freakin’ al Qaeda in Yemen that effectively prevented a terrorist attack using an advanced type of bomb that is allegedly undetectable by airline security. A Saudi double agent with cojones of steel managed to get himself chosen as the lucky volunteer to be be the suicide bomber — then made off with the bomb, delivered it to the good guys for analysis, and vanished. That’s the kind of incredible espionage story with a happy ending that I’d expect to see in a Hollywood thriller, not real life.
This classified information was leaked to AP reporters by an unknown source. If the timing had been different, the agent(s) involved would have faced certain execution (if lucky) or torture; the bombing plot may well have succeeded, killing at least a couple hundred innocent civilians; and if so, the United States would have been thrown into a state of fear and panic as after 9/11. This is presumably why Attorney General Eric Holder said it was one of the most serious leaks he’d seen in his long career.