White House and State Department officials cooperated extensively on background with a New York Times journalist during the period that he broke confidential national security information in a series of leaks that prompted outrage from lawmakers, according to unearthed 2011 and 2012 emails.
The nonprofit organization Freedom Watch, which obtained the internal State Department emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, believes that the Obama administration carried out the leaks to bolster a tough image for itself on Iran.
Then-Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Michael Hammer and other State Department employees arranged background interviews between New York Times chief Washington correspondent David Sanger and State Department officials between December 2011 and March 2012 for Sanger’s 2012 book “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power.”
Sanger’s book included leaks of confidential national security information, including details of the computer worm Stuxnet that was used in a cyberattack against Iran. Sanger linked the worm to a U.S.-Israeli intelligence operation called “Operation Olympic Games” in a June 2012 New York Times article.
White House officials, including then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, began cooperating with Sanger before December 12, 2011.
“Yes, WH is cooperating, he has spent time with Donilon, others. They know he is looking to meet up with HRC and support,” Hammer wrote to his colleague Phillippe Reines in a December 12, 2011 email with the subject line “RE: Sanger.”
“Madam President, over the past few months there has been a disturbing stream of articles in the media and common among them, they cite elite, classified, or highly sensitive information in what appears to be a broader effort by the administration to paint a portrait of the President of the United States as a strong leader on national security issues–information for which there is no legitimate reason whatsoever to believe should be in the public domain,” Sen. John McCain said, according to June 5, 2012 transcripts of the Senate record.
“What price did the administration apparently pay to proliferate such a Presidential persona-highly valued in an election year? Access. Access to senior administration officials who appear to have served as anonymous sources divulging extremely sensitive military and intelligence information and operations,” McCain said. “With the leaks that these articles were based on, our enemies now know much more than they did the day before they came out about important aspects of our Nation’s unconventional offensive capabilities and how we use them.”
State Department officials coordinated closely with Sanger in the months preceding McCain’s statement, according to emails and other documents obtained by Freedom Watch.