The heads of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees are calling for investigations into the leak of a foiled bomb plot to the press.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said Tuesday that there could be “extremely damaging” repercussions for the United States because news of the attempted bombing was leaked to the press before officials had completed their investigation of the alleged bomber.
Speaking to a small group of reporters after being briefed by U.S. intelligence and homeland security officials in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center, King said he was not planning to investigate the matter with his panel.
Instead, King pressed Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, to conduct a thorough investigation.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told The Hill that the Obama administration should investigate the leak because it might have compromised U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts.
“This operation was not disclosed because it was essentially ongoing and they didn’t want to compromise sources or compromise the operation. So whoever leaked this did both of those things, which are unacceptable,” said Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
“Certainly I hope that somebody in the administration will do an investigation of where the leak came from, because it was contrary to our national security,” he said.
On Monday, The Associated Press broke the story detailing the successful operation, in which U.S. officials thwarted the attempted bombing of a commercial airliner, allegedly by a member of al Qaeda’s offshoot in Yemen.
The AP revealed that it had learned of the plot soon after U.S. officials stopped the alleged bomber last week. But at the request of the White House and the CIA, the AP waited until Monday to run the article.
Last week U.S. officials told the AP they were still gathering intelligence based on the evidence and by publicizing news of the event it could jeopardize that process. Once it received assurance from officials that they had completed their investigation, the AP ran the story.
But the looming question that remains for lawmakers on Capitol Hill is: Who leaked the news of the foiled plot to the AP, and why?
In the past, when sensitive information has been leaked to the press, fingers have been quick to point at members of Congress. For that reason, lawmakers created the so-called “Gang of 8” — a group of eight senior lawmakers who are privy to the most top-secret intelligence and homeland security information — in an effort to guard against intelligence leaking.
But according to King, this leak is different. It couldn’t have been lawmakers, he said, because members were the last to find out.
“One thing we know is that it didn’t come from Congress,” said King on Tuesday. “My understanding is that until yesterday the Speaker of the House and the chairman and the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee weren’t informed of it and yet somehow this leaked out over a week ago. This isn’t an ordinary leak.”
King said that in his talks with the CIA since the news of the plot was publicized, the agency has expressed “a real concern and anger over what happened.” King would not comment on whether the CIA had any leads on who leaked the information.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday morning, Rogers said his committee would be asking a lot of questions about how the leak occurred and why the news of the plot was given to the press a week before intelligence officials were finished with their investigation.
“As chairman of the Intel committee we’ll be asking some pretty hard questions about that,” said Rogers. “As an old FBI agent, I can tell you, you need to take your leads all the way to the end to make sure you get the whole picture before you a) come to a conclusion and b) talk about your conclusion. [It’s] a little bit concerning that this got out as early as it did. There was still some work to be done.”
Rogers also emphasized that such a leak is a federal crime and questioned whether it might have been politically motivated.
The plot coincided with the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s killing. President Obama had been taking heat from Republicans in the lead-up to the day for touting his role in ordering the special forces team to take out the former head of al Qaeda.