Early this week, the Associated Press broke the story that the US government had stymied an attempt by a Yemini Al-Qaeda group to blow-up a US bound plane. It was a huge scoop, but at the government’s request the AP sat on the story for several days. Bob speaks with AP reporter Matt Apuzzo about the decision to hold the story, and the decision to publish it.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. Earlier this week, the Associated Press broke the story that the U.S. government had stymied an attempt by a Yemini al Qaeda group to blow up a U.S.-bound plane. It was a huge scoop but, at the government’s request, the AP sat on the story for several days. Why? Because it found itself in the position of having to balance the public’s right to know against the government’s claim that publishing the story could endanger an ongoing operation.
The AP, after being assured that the information would not pose any dangers, eventually chose to publish the story one day earlier than the government would have liked. Matt Apuzzo is one of the reporters who broke the story. He says the details are continuing to emerge.
MATT APUZZO: What we know now is that there was actually a al Qaeda double agent, if you will, who was the would-be bomber, in al Qaeda’s eyes, but was actually working for Saudi intelligence. So you have al Qaeda coming up with this really sophisticated devious new bomb and hoping that it’s gonna take down an airplane. And they give it to the guy they think is gonna blow up the plane and he basically just hands it over to the U.S. government.
BOB GARFIELD: When you got onto this story, at some point you got in touch with official sources in the CIA or the White House, and they told you what?
MATT APUZZO: The government did not want us to publish this story because there was still aspects of the operation that were continuing. Holding stories back from readers is, is really difficult. And, and that’s why we try to be so kind of open kimono about it, to tell them, look hey, we didn’t tell you this when we knew it [LAUGHS], and here’s why.
BOB GARFIELD: There was something very strange that was going on simultaneously to you not publishing. The government was telling the rest of the press that it knew of no ongoing terrorist operations tied to the anniversary of bin Laden’s death. And you’re sitting there, unable to publish your story [LAUGHS], knowing that wasn’t true.
MATT APUZZO: When they said that, we didn’t know that wasn’t true, but certainly the fact that they had said there was no plot made the story as much about government accountability to the American public as it was about just another terrorist plot.
BOB GARFIELD: They had just gotten done telling us all that there was nothing afoot, and you discovered the underwear bomb plot, and you know two things, that you have a good story and that the government has been lying over the last several days.
MATT APUZZO: And those are the kinds of questions we were asking. The government would say, well look, we, of course, now know there’s this double agent, so was it ever really even a plot, was it totally under control from the get-go. It wasn’t something where we felt like we had to alert the public to. Those sorts of things come into focus as you learn more and more about the story.
BOB GARFIELD: In the end, you broke the story on a Monday. The government had asked you to hold it ‘til Tuesday, at which point the government had planned to kind of pull the drape from over the whole operation itself. Why did you go with it a day early?
MATT APUZZO: So we didn’t see it as going early. We were not gonna run the story while an operation was ongoing, while there were safety concerns. And once the government told us that that was no longer the case, our editors felt like we’d met our obligation.
BOB GARFIELD: Matt, thank you so much.
MATT APUZZO: Hey, thanks a lot.
BOB GARFIELD: Matt Apuzzo is a reporter for The Associated Press.