Theories swirled at the time that the White House orchestrated the leaks to burnish Obama’s desired tough-on-terror image.
“I don’t think you have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what’s going on here. You’ve had three leaks of intelligence that paint the president as a strong leader,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in June 2012, adding the foiled bomb plot story “was about how the Obama administration saved us all.” Senators who were furious about the leaks included Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
The Benghazi theory that’s gained more traction since a recent wave of whistleblowers appeared before Congress holds that blame was quickly pinned on an anti-Muhammad YouTube video to support the claim that al-Qaeda was on the run. A cornerstone of the tough-on-terror narrative was painting a picture of an organization that had been weakened to the point that it couldn’t pull off anniversary attacks such as the underwear bomb to mark the death of bin Laden or the consulate attack to mark 9/11.
And with the AP story at issue highlighting the administration’s denials of any credible threat, it adds another reason why the White House would have been irate about the story.
The reaction showed they were eager to bury the news above bragging.
The day after the story broke, Obama headed to New York for a speech at the University of Albany in which he proposed a “to-do list” for Congress.
Carney told reporters en route that the president was “certainly pleased with the success” of the U.S. intelligence community in “foiling” the attempt, but likely wouldn’t mention it. Sure enough, Obama didn’t mention terrorism at all in the speech.
The Justice Department secretly obtained phone records for April and May 2012 for more than 20 lines used by reporters and editors of the newswire. The AP noted that prosecutors have sought reporters’ phone records before, but the scope of the DOJ’s request, “including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual.”
“Among those whose phone numbers were obtained were five reporters and an editor who were involved in the May 7, 2012, story,” the AP added of the actions that could have a chilling effect on their relationships with sources and whistleblowers in the future.
Three days after the story, the House Transportation & Infrastructure and Oversight and Government Reform committees released a report on the TSA’s wasted dollars on inefficient screening technologies.
“The CIA uncovered terrorists’ latest modified underwear bomb plot, but TSA has repeatedly failed to effectively procure and deploy screening equipment that actually detects threats, and incredible amounts of its state-of-the-art technology is gathering dust in Texas warehouses,” Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said at the time.
Much of the fallout from the AP’s story consisted of angry lawmakers wanting to plug intelligence leaks, which supports the meme of an administration with little control over its tentacles.
But a lot of the hue and cry consisted of exactly what the Obama campaign didn’t want in the news cycle.
Two days after the original AP report, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) called it “odd” that the White House was trying to hold the story yet hadn’t informed Congress about the operation as required.
“The problem is, we could have gotten more. It was clearly, I don’t know — this is the funny season, this time of year,” he said in reference to campaign time. “…You cannot use your political interest ahead of our national security interest; it’s dangerous and that’s why you have these third-party oversight provisions in the law.”
“I can tell you there are so many potential plots, and it’s not just al-Qaeda Central. When President Obama says that the war began in Afghanistan, it’s going to end in Afghanistan: He has to know better than that,” then House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) also said two days after the AP story broke.
“Now we have al-Qaeda in Yemen, in Somalia, in Iraq, in Morocco; we can go though the whole list of countries where al-Qaeda is spreading. Mali, even Libya we have to be concerned about al-Qaeda.”
Four months later, four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens were killed in the attack on the Benghazi compound.