Justice Department Confirms Hunt for Spy-Story Source The Justice Department confirms it is investigating the source of a New York Times' story on a National Security Agency program that includes domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens without a warrant. The story broke earlier this month after the newspaper delayed publication for more than a year.
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Justice Department Confirms Hunt for Spy-Story Source

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Justice Department Confirms Hunt for Spy-Story Source

Justice Department Confirms Hunt for Spy-Story Source

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of information about domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Two weeks ago a story in The New York Times revealed that the NSA has been spying on American citizens within the US without warrants for four years. Well, now the Justice Department is not conducting an investigation into that spying, but rather it's looking into who might have leaked that story to The Times. NPR's David Folkenflik is with us right now.

And, first off, David, has there been any question about the accuracy of that Times story?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:

None whatsoever. Obviously, the president, the administration's quite heated about the fact that it got in print, but there's been no challenge of the facts. And some legal scholars and some former government officials say it's pretty clear that a 1978 law against domestic wiretapping without warrants has been broken.

SIEGEL: So the question here, the question that the Justice Department is looking into, is all about how that information got published.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. I mean, this is a pretty classic clash between values: values of protecting national security and asserting government authority to do what's necessary and the question of the public's right to know, the media watchdog role being fulfilled.

SIEGEL: Well, how do we know, in fact, that national security has been endangered here?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, we don't. President Bush has asserted that it has, but he hasn't publicly made that case. And, in fact, he did do so privately to the publisher and executive editor of The Times, and they held the story for over a year and pursued additional reporting, and they withheld some information. But they decided to publish.

SIEGEL: So if Justice is investigating who leaked this information to The Times, are they investigating people in the administration, in Congress, or are they investigating The Times?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it appears that mostly likely they'd be investigating the act of the leakers--that is, current or former federal officials leaking classified information. But one clear way to do that, we know, is to do that through the reporters.

SIEGEL: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: Presumably they know who they spoke to.

SIEGEL: Well, of course, what's compelling here is that The Times just went through quite a dramatic event with the jailing of its reporter Judith Miller when she wouldn't reveal her sources. Obviously, they probably can't be eager for another conflict of that sort.

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, I don't think they want it at all. A spokeswoman for The Times said that the newspaper wouldn't be commenting on this at this time. But nonetheless special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in that CIA leak case was able to get everything he wanted from every reporter involved. It's not clear that there's much wiggle room here for the press.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you this, though. In the story of disclosing the name of Valerie Plame Wilson, there was always a rather small universe, it seemed, of potential leakers. In The Times story about NSA surveillance of Americans, there was rather broad attribution to many people.

FOLKENFLIK: I thought it was pretty interesting. They referred to nearly a dozen government officials, which would take in a number of branches of government. Could be judges who learned of it and were upset. Could be people on the Hill, people in the administration. They did say it was a very small circle of people who knew, just a handful of congressional figures, a very few Cabinet officials and senior people at the NSA, CIA and Justice. So I would imagine that would be the universe of candidates.

SIEGEL: What does it mean that Justice is looking into this? I mean, is there--we don't have a special prosecutor has been named or independent counsel or anything of that sort. Are they interviewing people? Do we know what they're doing yet?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, we don't know yet what's going on. Presumably people will be subpoenaed if you take past investigations as a guide. You know, people will check call logs and e-mails, you know, what phone conversations occurred and see if they can construct a case that James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, the two reporters who wrote The Times story, had contacts with these government officials. But it's not yet known.

SIEGEL: Is there any talk about an investigation not just into the leak but into the program of surveillance?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, Senator Arlen Specter--he's a Republican from Pennsylvania and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee--said he does want to have oversight hearings on that very issue. It hasn't been scheduled yet. He's not exactly getting the vocal support of Republican leaders on the Hill. And the administration itself has shown absolutely no eagerness in investigating this. They say any more information that gets into the public could imperil the ability to protect the public.

SIEGEL: Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: Thank you.

SIEGEL: NPR's David Folkenflik.

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