The PJ Tatler

NYT's David Sanger Defends Reporting on the Obama Admin's National Security Leaks

The New York Times‘ David Sanger is fine with major national security leaks, which, being the recipient of the leaks, one would expect.

David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” to defend his reporting on U.S. involvement in deploying the Stuxnet computer virus against Iran.

Sanger said that during 18 months of reporting for his book “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” he obtained information from the ground up. He said he had serious doubts as to whether there were any political motivations behind the leaks.

“Did I talk to a lot of people in the administration? Of course,” he said, as would be expected when writing a book about national security.

The two US attorneys that AG Holder assigned to investigate should have an easy time of figuring out who leaked what, if they’re interested in getting to the bottom of the problem. They answer to Holder, so their investigative zeal might be curbed. But if they’re serious, here are three directions they could go from the start. One, ask Michael Vickers if anyone authorized him to leak the identities of SEAL Team 6 members to Hollywood producers. If someone did, who? If no one did, Vickers should be facing charges for disclosing classified information. Two, ask NYT reporters David Sanger, Jo Becker and Scott Shane. Reporters are not above the law and there could only have been so many administration figures in the know on the cyber warfar. If the reporters don’t talk, they should face jail time. There is precedent for this: Judith Miller spent a couple of months in jail in 2005 protecting sources over the Valerie Plame “leak,” which was far smaller in scope and did potentially far less damage than the Obama leaks exposing the US cyber war with Iran and the president’s drone kill list have done. The Plame “leak” actually exposed the fact that her husband, Joe Wilson, had said one thing about yellowcake and Iraq in his official report and quite another in the press. It’s clear from the NYT‘s current reportage that very senior Obama administration officials are the sources of the leaks. It should not take too long to determine who they are, especially with national security adviser Thom Donilon is quoted on the record in the drone kill list story. So three, ask Thom Donilon.

For future purposes, let’s file this bit from Sanger’s story about Stuxnet away. For, say, 2016.

In the summer of 2010, shortly after a new variant of the worm had been sent into Natanz, it became clear that the worm, which was never supposed to leave the Natanz machines, had broken free, like a zoo animal that found the keys to the cage. It fell to Mr. Panetta and two other crucial players in Olympic Games — General Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael J. Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A. — to break the news to Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.

An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”

Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”

When driving to stop the Iranians from building nuclear weapons that pose an obvious existential threat to Israel, it would be good to get Biden on the record as to how far he believes Israel is allowed to go to defend herself.

Update: It’s worth noting that, according to the Israelis, Sanger’s reporting on the cyber war against Iran is wrong.