The Obama administration provided a New York Times reporter exclusive access to a range of high-level national security officials for a book that divulged highly classified information on a U.S. cyberwar on Iran’s nuclear program, internal State Department emails show.
The information in the 2012 book by chief Washington correspondent David E. Sanger has been the subject of a yearlong Justice Department criminal investigation: The FBI is hunting for those who leaked details to Mr. Sanger about a U.S.-Israeli covert cyberoperation to infect Iran’s nuclear facilities with a debilitating computer worm known as Stuxnet.
A New York Times story adapted from the book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” quotes participants in secret White House meetings discussing plans to unleash Stuxnet on Iran.
The scores of State Department emails from the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2012 do not reveal which officials told Mr. Sanger, but they do show an atmosphere of cooperation within the administration for a book generally favorable toward, but not uncritical of, President Obama. For example:
“I’m getting a bit concerned about the pace of our interviews — or lack of pace, to be more precise — for the book,” Mr. Sanger said in an email Oct. 30, 2011, to Michael Hammer, a senior State Department public affairs official. “The White House is steaming away; I’ve seen [National Security Adviser Thomas E.] Donilon many times and a raft of people below. Doing well at the Pentagon. But on the list I sent you starting on Sept. 12 we’ve scheduled nothing, and chapters are getting into final form.”
Mr. Sanger’s book debuted in June 2012 and brought an immediate call from Republicans to investigate the leaks. They charged that administration officials jeopardized an ongoing secret cyberattack by tipping off Iran’s hard-line Islamic regime about war plans.
They also charged that Obama aides were leaking sensitive materials on other issues, such as the Navy SEAL-CIA raid to kill Osama bin Laden, to burnish Mr. Obama’s credentials as commander in chief as the 2012 election approached.
The nonprofit Freedom Watch acquired the State Department emails via a Freedom of Information Act request filed days after the book was published. Larry Klayman, its director, said State at first had told him it did not have any documents. He then filed suit in federal court.
In December, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Wilkins ordered State to turn over emails relating to its cooperation with Mr. Sanger.
Officials line up
“When you read the totality of those documents, it’s a super-close relationship they are furthering with Sanger,” Mr. Klayman said. “They were literally force-feeding him.”
He said State has yet to provide transcripts of the Sanger interviews.
“I think the thrust of this is this requires a significant investigation,” Mr. Klayman said, adding that he has provided the emails to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
A State Department spokesman did not respond to emails from The Washington Times requesting comment.
In one email, a public affairs official said Mr. Sanger wanted to discuss “Cybersecurity — particularly if there’s a legal framework being developed on the offensive side.” Stuxnet would be an example of an offensive cyberweapon.