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Tuesday, October 9, 2007
NewsBusters: ABC Stands For 'Alerting Bin Laden's Compatriots'
Topic: NewsBusters

An Oct. 9 NewsBusters post by Ken Shepherd is headlined, "Alerting Bin Laden's Compatriots (ABC): Al Qaeda Goes Dark Thanks to Network." In it, Shepherd cites an Oct. 9 New York Sun article claiming that a leak of Osama bin Laden's September 11 speech inadvertently disclosed the fact that American intelligence agencies had penetrated the enemy's computer systems, prompting al-Qaeda to shut down its system. Shepherd adds: "You can thank ABC News for that."

But is ABC really to blame? Shepherd gives surprisingly short shrift to the fact that it was leaked information, saying only that "it's not just the leaker but the leakee that has moral culpability for potential lives lost due to the intelligence failures that may result here," but he devotes most of his time to bashing ABC. But neither he nor the Sun offer any evidence that ABC was aware that the leak of the bin Laden video might compromise intelligence methods or that ABC went with the story anyway depite taht.

Shepherd does not mention an Oct. 9 Washington Post article, which clearly demonstrates that it was a leak from within the Bush administration that resulted in news coverage:

A small private intelligence company that monitors Islamic terrorist groups obtained a new Osama bin Laden video ahead of its official release last month, and around 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, it notified the Bush administration of its secret acquisition. It gave two senior officials access on the condition that the officials not reveal they had it until the al-Qaeda release.

Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company's Web site. By midafternoon that day, the video and a transcript of its audio track had been leaked from within the Bush administration to cable television news and broadcast worldwide.

Further, the claim suggested by the Sun and repeated by Shepherd that ABC was the first to report on bin Laden's speech is not quite corroborated by the Post article:

By midafternoon, several television news networks reported obtaining copies of the transcript. A copy posted around 3 p.m. on Fox News's Web site referred to SITE [the private intelligence firm that had tapped into the al-Qaeda network and downloaded the bin Laden video] and included page markers identical to those used by the group. "This confirms that the U.S. government was responsible for the leak of this document," Katz wrote in an e-mail to Leiter at 5 p.m.

Yet Shepherd reserves nearly all his opprobrium for a single news outlet for reporting some unquestionably newsworthy -- while offering no evidence whatsoever that it did so maliciously -- and not the government officials who leaked it before intelligence methods could be protected.

It was the Bush administration that was "Alerting Bin Laden's Compatriots." Why is that ABC's fault?

UPDATE: An Oct. 9 NewsMax column by Phil Brennan similarly cites the Sun article as an example of how the media engage in "routine publishing of vital national security secrets" and, thus, are guilty of "treason." But, like Shepherd, Brennan whitewashes the fact that the speech was leaked by the Bush administration and offers no evidence that ABC reported on the speech with the knowledge or intent that it would harm intelligence gathering.

Posted by Terry K. at 2:49 PM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2007 2:55 PM EDT

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