As the New York Times continues to defend its coverage about President Barack Obama's terrorist kill list and the White House's cyber strategy against Iran, the president said it was offensive for people to assume or believe one of his aides leaked the top secret information to the press.
The notion that my White House would purposefully release classified national security information is offensive, it's wrong, Obama said at a press briefing at the White House on Friday in response to a question by the Chicago Tribune's David Jackson.
The United States' use of drones to execute al-Qaeda officials, as well as its use of the Stuxnet computer worm to weaken or destroy Iran's nuclear program, have long been open secrets. Just earlier this week, the Pentagon confirmed that a predator drone in Pakistan killed the terror group's second-in-command, Yahya al-Libi.
But the articles -- a lengthy story about the president's top secret Kill List and another excerpt from author David Sanger's new book about Obama's Secret Wars -- provide an inside look into the two programs via leaked documents, including President Obama's plan to accelerate cyber-attacks on Iran, his hands-on approach to counter-terrorism, and other details.
A group of Congressmen, including Republican Sen. John McCain, condemned the national security leaks and launched an investigation into their source on Wednesday, the Huffington Post reported.
Thanks to the upcoming election, every issue has a little taste of 2012 in it. As the New York Times reports in an article about the controversy and backlash, the two programs have become the heart of a partisan dispute over secrecy, with Congressional Republicans accusing the Obama administration of leaking classified information for political advantage and Democrats lodging their own protests about high-level disclosures.
It was this controversy and backlash the reporter had asked President Obama about during the press conference on Friday. The president refused to comment on the articles themselves but sternly denied his administration had anything to do with the leak, adding that people who illegally leak information will suffer the consequences.
First, I'm not going to comment on the details of what are supposed to be classified items, he said. Second, as commander-in-chief, the issues that you've mentioned touch on our national security or critical issues of war and peace, and they're classified for a reason. Because they're sensitive. Because the people involved may in some cases be endangered with their carrying out of some of these missions.
The president also made a subtle hit at the New York Times for going ahead with the pieces, but kept his comments general.
And when this information or reports, whether true or false, surface on the front page of newspapers, that makes the jobs of folks on the front lines tougher and it makes my job tougher. My policy has been zero tolerance for these leaks and information.