Despite the Bush administration’s giving the New York Times and Los Angeles Times the courtesy of full briefings leading into the papers’ decision to publish top secret information about the SWIFT terrorism financing monitoring program, the N.Y. Times reporters involved never gave the Bush administration the courtesy of informing it of what specifically they would be reporting before the stories hit the papers, according to a Department of Justice source.
“Usually reporters will give us a heads up about what they will be breaking a day or so in advance for stories like this so we have some inkling. We don’t expect to see the stories, or get tons of specifics, it’s just a courtesy. But in this case, we got nothing, which is standard M.O. for the New York Times reporters involved,” says the DOJ source.
That would appear to be a reference to New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, who has covered the Department of Justice off and on for more than four years, and who at one time had his press credentials suspended by the DOJ press office. Only after his Times bosses interceded and promised a more even-handed approach to reporting was his access to the Department restored.
In the realm of intelligence and law enforcement work, such a tipoff is helpful, particularly if there is concern that potential targets of the investigations might run or destroy evidence.
In the case of the SWIFT program leak, the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department are both attempting to confirm how much material damage the Times‘s stories have wrought.
“We aren’t going to get into specifics in public now, but I think when we brief the House and Senate in the coming days we will be able to make a clear and persuasive case that the SWIFT leak has severely set our efforts back on a number of fronts and on a number of investigations,” says a Treasury official familiar with the preparations of the Congressional briefings. “Depending on where we come out of things, some of us are of a mindset to recommend that as much information as possible that we can allow to be declassified should be declassified, so that the American people can see just how much damage the Times has caused.”