Communication Matters - our blog on trends and events


Leaks allow media to impact terror investigation

The BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico was not the only thing leaking this week.

Fed by frenetic coverage, high stakes and apparent rivalries, the law enforcement agencies investigating the attempted terror attack in Times Square apparently leaked to the media in such numbers that it affected the investigation.

NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston, whose coverage has been informative and thorough, reported this morning how it was that the media seemed to know what investigators were doing, even as they were doing it. The resulting flow of information could have dramatically impacted the investigation and eventual arrest of suspect Faisal Shahzad, Temple-Raston said.

An unidentified law enforcement official told Temple-Raston that “ ‘Our operational plans were being driven by the media, instead of the other way around. And that’s not good.’ “

Generally, sources leak for two reasons:

* They want to show that they are in the know;
* They have an agenda, including a point of view, they want in public view.

In this case, Temple-Raston describes a rivalry between the FBI and the New York Police Department as the driving force behind the leaks.

At one point, “a day-and-a-half after the attack, a news organization reported that law enforcement officials were looking for an American citizen of Pakistani descent from Shelton, Conn.” (Temple-Raston said she too had this information but chose not to report it for fear it would affect the investigation.)

In fact, Shahzad told those who arrested him that he saw the report and knew authorities were watching him.

“That’s an important detail, because surveillance is only effective if people don’t know they are being watched,” Temple-Raston said.

Her report is rather chilling when you think about the growing number of media outlets, citizen reporters, eyewitness reporters and more, all comprising the new media.

Yes, sources leak to show they are in the know. But some people report the news for the same reason. So where does that leave us? We have greater amounts of information being filed from a greater variety of sources. Sounds good from a public debate perspective. But as Temple-Raston points out, there are inherent dangers as well.

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