The New York Times Has A History Of Reaching Too Far On Intel Leaks

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Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
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The New York Times published a seemingly bombshell report June 26 claiming that President Donald Trump had been briefed on intelligence about a Russian spy unit allegedly paying Taliban-linked militants to carry out attacks against U.S. troops.

Days later, the publication issued a second report undercutting its original story – after the White House, the Pentagon, national security advisor Robert O’Brien and others denied it.

In light of the NYT softening its bombshell report, here’s a look back at some of the other moments when the publication has stumbled while reporting on matters of US intelligence. (RELATED: With Follow-Up Report, NYT Subtly Undercuts Key Aspects Of Its Russia-Taliban Bounty Scoops)

NYT first reported in definitive terms that Trump was briefed on the Russian bounty report, but then …

The original article reported with utter certitude that Trump had been briefed and that the intelligence community agreed on the veracity of the Russian effort.

“The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year,” the NYT first wrote.

Its second report, published June 29, contained far more nuance. This report read that the Russian bounty intelligence was included in a Feb. 27 Presidential Daily Brief for Trump. The article also noted that the intelligence community — particularly the NSA and CIA — was divided on the assessment that Russia was contracting extremists to kill US troops.

Both stories by the NYT cited unnamed officials. The second, however, pointed out that it wasn’t clear whether the president saw the report or if it was briefed to him orally.

“Officials said there was disagreement among intelligence officials about the strength of the evidence about the suspected Russian plot and the evidence linking the attack on the Marines to the suspected Russian plot,” the second NYT article reads.

NYT claimed 17 intelligence agencies “agree” on Russia

The NYT reported in June 2017 that a whopping 17 U.S. intelligence agencies believed Russia was part of interfering in the 2016 election. This report came after fact-checkers debunked the claim, such as the one issued a month prior by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The publication was forced to issue a correction admitting that only four intelligence agencies believed this – not the 17 as originally reported. The NYT wrote that the article in question “referred incorrectly to the source of an intelligence assessment that said Russia orchestrated hacking attacks during last year’s presidential election.” (RELATED: Here’s A List Of The 5 Biggest NY Times Screw Ups This Year)

Comey disputes NYT article alleging Trump campaign had communications with Russian intelligence

A Feb. 2017 report by the newspaper alleged that U.S. intelligence officials intercepted these communications in the year leading to the 2016 election. Former FBI Director James Comey disputed the report while testifying in front of Congress, saying in June 2017 that “in the main, it was not true.”

Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton asked if it would “be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong” and Comey responded “yes.” The NYT article cited “former and current officials” and said it was “looking into James Comey’s statements” following his testimony.

The publication stood by its reporting after looking into Comey’s comments.

“Mr. Comey did not say exactly what he believed was incorrect about the article, which was based on information from four current and former American officials, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information was classified,” the publication wrote. “The original sources could not immediately be reached after Mr. Comey’s remarks, but in the months since the article was published, they have indicated that they believed the account was solid.”

NYT slammed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller over “inaccurately” reporting on investigation

Mueller criticized the NYT, among other publications, for reporting on the Russia investigation “inaccurately,” Business Insider reported in 2018. These comments were directed at a report from the NYT claiming Mueller’s office carried out a “no-knock” raid on former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort.

This article was written in Sept. 2017.

The special counsel singled out the NYT article, as well as another from WaPo, in a court filing footnote, Business Insider reported. NYT’s article used two unknown sources “close to the investigation” to allege that the FBI picked the lock instead of announcing their presence before the raid, Business Insider reported. (RELATED: Justice Department Delivers Mueller Conclusions)

Prior to Mueller’s comments directed at the NYT, his office had denied the “no-knock” raid.

“The reporting, at times inaccurately, comments on the nature of the evidence collected in the case or activities of the parties,” the court filing read according to Business Insider. “Furthermore, the amount of publicity about this case is only likely to grow as the trial date approaches, and such publicity increases the possibility that jurors will form biases or pre-formed opinions that may prejudice one or both parties.”

The NYT was forced to issue a correction, writing on June 25, 2018 that the “article misstated the method that investigators used to enter Paul Manafort’s home.”

“They did not pick the lock, federal prosecutors said in a court filing,” the NYT wrote.

NYT “mischaracterized” its reporting that Russia was trying to re-elect Trump for 2020

An article from Feb. 2020 alleged that “intelligence officials warned House lawmakers … that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected,” citing “five people familiar with the matter.” Just one day later, this report received pushback, according to CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Tapper reported that multiple stories circulating about Russia tying to get Trump re-elected were “mischaracterized.” Tapper cited an unnamed official and added that the “mischaracterization” was from Shelby Pierson, an election-security official working for Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire’s office.

“What’s been articulated in the news is that the intelligence community has concluded that the Russians are trying to help Trump again,” the official said according to Tapper. “But the intelligence doesn’t say that. The problem is Shelby said they developed a preference for Trump. A more reasonable interpretation of the intelligence is not that they have a preference, it’s a step short of that.”

“It’s more that they understand the president is someone they can work with, he’s a dealmaker. But not that they prefer him over Sanders or Buttigieg or anyone else, so it may have been mischaracterized by Shelby.”

Tapper added that the official said “both Democrats and Republicans were challenging this at the briefing.”