NPR has an interesting (and troubling) story about how leaks to the news media, and resulting coverage, influenced the investigation of the Times Square car bomb. As the story details, the leaks came close to helping Faisal Shahzad escape and could have endangered the lives of law enforcement officials.
Details about the Times Square investigation were all over the local newspapers, even as authorities were still trying to puzzle out who was responsible. Any element of surprise that law enforcement might have had was evaporating.
To be fair, law enforcement was partly to blame. In many cases, it was the source of the information and leaks. But there seemed to be an extra level of frustration about the leaks in this case. As one law enforcement official told NPR, “Our operational plans were being driven by the media, instead of the other way around. And that’s not good.”
He said they watched in horror as news organizations started talking about the fact that the vehicle identification number on the Nissan Pathfinder used in the botched bombing had been taken off the windshield. Then another report said that wouldn’t matter, as authorities could find the VIN on other parts of the car. A short time later, the fact that they had found the number was reported. The coverage was providing a lot of clues about the direction the case was going.
On Monday afternoon, basically 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. (NPR also had the information but didn’t report it out of concern that it would affect the investigation before Shahzad’s arrest.) . . . .
“It was like watching an episode of 24 in real time,” a law enforcement official said. The only problem was that Shahzad was able to watch it, too.