JW Sues CIA for Transcript of Brennan Call with Journalists Revealing Details of Foiled Terrorist Plot to Bomb U.S. Airliner
Details of plot from CIA chief while top Obama counterterrorism adviser may undercut Obama administration claims that AP story ‘put the American people at risk.’
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on June 21, 2013, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Central Intelligence Agency (No. 1:13-cv-00946)) against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) seeking access to information regarding a May 2012 conference call between then-Obama counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and select TV terrorism consultants regarding a foiled terrorist plot to bomb a U.S. aircraft scheduled to fly from Yemen to the United States.
The Brennan conference call lies at the heart of The Associated Press (AP) defense against the sweeping secret subpoena of the press association’s phone records by the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ). In seizing the AP records, DOJ claimed that the news organization’s disclosure of the foiled plot had “put the American people at risk.”
But, according to a May 15, 2013, NBC News report, “[T]hat assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder could be undermined by the White House’s decision to publicly comment about the operation at the time and reveal details beyond those in the original AP story, according to legal experts and counterterrorism officials.” The Obama administration has withheld the Brennan conference call transcript from the public.
By letter on March 21, 2013, the CIA acknowledged receipt of Judicial Watch’s request on March 5, 2013. The letter stated that it was unlikely the CIA could respond to the request within 20 working days as required by law, adding, “You have the right to consider our honest appraisal as a denial of your request and you may appeal to the Agency Release Panel.” Because the statement was not an adverse determination within the meaning of the law, however, no administrative appeal was possible. Hence, the June 21 FOIA lawsuit.
On May 7, 2012, AP broke the story of the foiled airliner bomb plot, reporting:
The CIA has thwarted a plot by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen to destroy a US-bound airliner using a bomb with a new design around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The plot involved an upgrade of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009.
According to Reuters, following the breaking of the story by AP, Brennan, then a top White House adviser on counterterrorism, conducted a teleconference with select former counterterrorism advisers, who had become TV news commentators, to privately brief them on yet unrevealed details of the foiled Yemeni plot. While Brennan assured the commentators that “the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had ‘inside control’ over it,” his comments reportedly “helped lead to disclosure of the secret at the heart of a joint U.S.-British-Saudi undercover counter-terrorism operation.”
NBC News reported that, “Brennan later told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he conducted the briefing to avoid ‘dangerous questions and speculation’ about the operation.”
Despite Brennan’s briefing for TV terrorism consultants revealing secret details of the Yemen operation, the Washington Post reported on May 13, 2013, “In a sweeping and unusual move, the Justice Department secretly obtained two months’ worth of telephone records of journalists working for the Associated Press as part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot last year.” According the article, federal authorities obtained cellular, office and home telephone records of individual reporters and an editor; AP general office numbers in Washington, New York and Hartford, Conn.; and the main number for AP reporters covering Congress.
“This is truly classic: the Obama administration stonewalling the release of the details of a briefing to the press,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “One might conclude that the cover-up related to this antiterrorism briefing has something to do with minimizing the controversy of their extraordinary investigation into the Associated Press over its reporting on the topic covered in this very same briefing.”