CBS Highlights CIA Chief’s Rebuke of Damaging Leaks; ABC Skips, NBC Barely Touches

ABC and NBC, on Thursday night, didn’t find CIA Director Porter Goss’s lambasting of leakers and the news media, for publicizing secret information, very newsworthy. CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer, however, noted that at a Senate hearing the intelligence officials who testified “seemed at one point as concerned about leaks to the news media as the nuclear threat" from Iran and CBS reporter David Martin pointed out how “the leak that dominated the hearing was the New York Times story about the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping on suspected al-Qaeda operatives inside the U.S.” Roberts also highlighted how “CIA Director Goss delivered a tirade against news leaks." But ABC’s World News Tonight ignored the topic completely, confining itself to an anchor-brief about testimony on the continuing threat from al-Qaeda, while NBC’s Andrea Mitchell allocated a mere eleven seconds to how the intelligence officials "claim the leaks about domestic eavesdropping have already disrupted valuable operations against terrorists," compared to nearly three times more time -- 29 seconds -- to how “Democrats were outraged that the administration still won't provide more details about its domestic spying" as well as how the administration won’t “say how many people are being wiretapped." (More of what Goss and Michael Hayden said, and newscast transcripts, follow.)

An excerpt from a Thursday AP dispatch about the hearing of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, “CIA Says Disclosures Damage Work,” by Katherine Shrader of the wire service’s Washington, DC bureau:
U.S. intelligence officials told Congress on Thursday that disclosure of once-classified projects like President Bush's no-warrant eavesdropping program have undermined their work.

"The damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission," CIA Director Porter Goss told the Senate Intelligence Committee, citing disclosures about a variety of CIA programs that he suggested may have been compromised....

Goss complained that leaks to the news media about classified CIA programs -- such as reported CIA secret prisons abroad -- had damaged his own agency's work.

"I use the words ‘very severe' intentionally. And I think the evidence will show that," he said.

Goss cited a "disruption to our plans, things that we have under way." Some CIA sources and "assets" had been rendered "no longer viable or usable, or less effective by a large degree," he said.

The revelations have also made intelligence agencies in other countries mistrustful of their U.S. counterparts, Goss said.

"I'm stunned to the quick when I get questions from my professional counterparts saying, ‘Mr. Goss, can't you Americans keep a secret?"

Goss, when pressed, said he was speaking of programs run by the CIA, and would let NSA officials speak for themselves.

Gen. Michael Hayden, the principal deputy director of national intelligence and a former NSA director, said it was hard to characterize any damage done to his agency in an open session.

But, he said, "Some people claim that somehow or another our capabilities are immune to this kind of information going out into the public domain."

"And, I can tell you, in a broad sense, that is certainly not true."...

END of Excerpt

Partial transcripts of coverage of the topic on the February 2 broadcast network evening newscasts, gathered with the assistance of the MRC’s Brad Wilmouth:

# CBS Evening News: In introducing David Martin’s story on the hearing in which the intelligence officials clarified the threat posed by Iran and al-Qaeda, anchor Bob Schieffer noted that in the “wide-ranging hearing, the officials seemed at one point as concerned about leaks to the news media as the nuclear threat.”

Martin, after summarizing Iran’s nuclear threat, moved on to the damage caused by leaks:
"But the issue most vividly on display was the clash between government secrecy and the public's right to know. CIA Director Goss delivered a tirade against news leaks."

Porter Goss, CIA Director, at the hearing: "-that the damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission. I use the words 'very severe' intentionally."

Martin: "He vowed more leak investigations like the one into the disclosure that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative, reporters brought before grand juries and required to reveal their sources or go to jail."

Goss: "It is my aim, and it is my hope that we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present being asked to reveal who is leaking this information."

Martin, over video of the New York Times headline: “The leak that dominated the hearing was the New York Times story about the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping on suspected al-Qaeda operatives inside the U.S. In the weeks since the leak, the President and other senior administration officials have publicly defended the eavesdropping, but the full Senate Intelligence Committee has yet to be briefed on it. Only the Chairman and Vice Chairman have been told the details.”

Senator John Rockefeller, Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee: “The reasons we are told is that the 13 other members of this committee cannot be trusted to know the details of the program.”

Martin: “One of those 13 asked the Deputy Director of National Intelligence if he would tell the committee in secret how many Americans have been monitored.”

General Michael Hayden, Deputy Director of National Intelligence: “I'm not at liberty to do that sir.”

Martin concluded: “Public hearings on the eavesdropping begin next week, but the Justice Department is refusing to turn over classified documents outlining its legal justification. David Martin, CBS News, the Pentagon.”


# NBC Nightly News: After running through the points made about the nuclear threat from Iran, Andrea Mitchell relayed how the intelligence officials who testified “claim the leaks about domestic eavesdropping have already disrupted valuable operations against terrorists.”
Porter Goss, CIA Director, at hearing: “The damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission.”

Mitchell: “But Democrats were outraged that the administration still won't provide more details about its domestic spying."

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), at hearing: "This rationale for withholding information from Congress is flat-out unacceptable, and nothing more than political smoke."

Mitchell: "Nor will the administration say how many people are being wiretapped."

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), at hearing: "Will you give us that number in closed session, the rest of us that are on the Intelligence Committee?"

General Michael Hayden: "Sir, I'm not at liberty to do that."

Levin: "Pardon?"

Hayden: "I'm not at liberty to do that, sir."

Mitchell concluded: “Tonight the stalemate continues over domestic eavesdropping and the U.S. is no closer to a solution on Iran.”


# ABC’s World News Tonight didn’t touch the topic of the damage caused by leaks, as anchor Elizabeth Vargas confined, to this short item, her newscast’s look at the hearing:
Elizabeth Vargas: "On Capitol Hill today, the nation's new Director of Intelligence warned that al-Qaeda is still planning high-impact attacks against the U.S. John Negroponte said al-Qaeda continues to pursue chemical, biological and atomic weapons."

John Negroponte, National Intelligence Director, at hearing: "The battle is far from over, but the organization's core elements still plot and make preparations for terrorist strikes against the homeland and other targets from bases in Pakistan/Afghanistan border area."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center