On NBC's Meet the Press, David Gregory failed to question Michael Chertoff about an August 12 report by Gregory's own network that, while British officials had intended to continue surveillance on the suspects of the foiled British terror plot, U.S. authorities had pressured them to arrest the suspected plotters sooner. ABC News' George Stephanopoulos noted this report, but left the false impression that the allegations were the product of the "blogosphere."
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On the August 13 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, guest host and NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory interviewed Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about the recently foiled British terror plot, but Gregory failed to question Chertoff about an August 12 report by his own network that, while British officials had intended to continue surveillance on the suspected plotters, U.S. authorities had pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. Meanwhile, on the August 13 edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos noted this report, but left the false impression that the allegations were the product of the "blogosphere," rather than of a major news outlet.
In an August 12 article on the NBC News website, the network's investigative unit, including reporters Aram Roston and Lisa Myers, reported that U.S. authorities had objected to a plan by the British police to "continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence" on the terror suspects. They attributed the story to a senior British official:
NBC News has learned that U.S. and British authorities had a significant disagreement over when to move in on the suspects in the alleged plot to bring down trans-Atlantic airliners bound for the United States.
A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.
In contrast to previous reports, the official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.
At the White House, a top aide to President Bush denied the account.
"There was unprecedented cooperation and coordination between the U.S., the U.K. and Pakistani officials throughout the case," said Frances Townsend, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, "and we worked together to protect our citizens from harm while ensuring that we gathered as much info as possible to bring the plotters to justice. There was no disagreement between U.S. and U.K. officials."
Another U.S. official, however, acknowledges there was disagreement over timing. Analysts say that in recent years, American security officials have become edgier than the British in such cases because of missed opportunities leading up to 9/11.
In his 12-minute interview with Chertoff, Gregory brought up the issue of "our coordination with British authorities," asking, "What worked here?" But Gregory failed to question Chertoff regarding the reported disagreement, despite the fact that his own network had broken the story a day earlier. From the August 13 interview:
GREGORY: Let me ask you about our coordination with British authorities. What worked here?
CHERTOFF: Well, what worked is deep relationships; trust -- the fact that we did not have leaks prior to the takedown. You know, that's one of the critical lessons out of this whole thing. The British trusted us with very sensitive information, and they were able to do it because they were confident we weren't going to leak. That's why leaks are so pernicious. Not only do they actually reveal secrets, but they undercut the basis of trust, which is the foundation of our whole international effort.
On the August 13 edition of ABC's This Week, Stephanopoulos noted the allegations that the United States had rushed the United Kingdom to make the arrests while "the Brits wanted to wait," but he left the impression that the story had been reported by bloggers. Stephanopoulos brought up the report after syndicated columnist George Will said, "I'm sure somewhere out in that fog of paranoia we call the blogosphere, there are all kinds of people writing that the British police ... and the Bush administration timed this all to counter" the political fallout from Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's loss in the August 8 Connecticut Democratic primary to anti-Iraq war candidate Ned Lamont. Stephanopoulos responded, "[T]here certainly is," and noted, "There was one report that said the United States ... rushed this -- the Brits wanted to wait." But Stephanopoulos failed to mention that this report had come from NBC News, not the blogosphere.
From the August 13 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos:
WILL: I'm sure somewhere out in that fog of paranoia we call the blogosphere, there are all kinds of people writing that the British police and the Pakistani police and the Bush administration timed all this to counter the Lamont --
STEPHANOPOULOS: I was reading -- I was reading on the internet last night -- there certainly is.
MARTHA RADDATZ (ABC News chief White House correspondent): Funny about that conspiracy, huh?
STEPHANAPOULOS: There was one report that said the United States rushed -- rushed this -- the Brits wanted to wait. I'm not verifying this. I'm just reporting it.