*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Reporter's View: How The WikiLeaks Story Developed
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest, Mark Mazzetti, is one of the New York Times correspondents who
sifted through and analyzed the classified military documents about the
war in Afghanistan that were released on the Internet this week by the
The Times was one of three publications, along with the British
newspaper the Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel, that were
given advance access to the documents by WikiLeaks, under the condition
that they not publish the story until July 25th.
We're going to talk about the content of these documents and what the
editorial process was like at the Times, including dealing with
WikiLeaks and the White House. These nearly 92,00 documents cover
January 2004 through December 2009.
WikiLeaks is an organization that describes itself as practicing
principled leaking. It publishes documents from leakers and
whistleblowers and is dedicated to protecting them. The Pentagon has
begun a criminal investigation into the source of these leaked
My guest, Mark Mazzetti, covers national security for the New York Times
and shared a 2009 Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the intensifying
violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Washington's response.
Mark Mazzetti, welcome to FRESH AIR. Tell us one or two of the biggest
revelations for you from the material that was leaked.
Mr. MARK MAZZETTI (New York Times): For me, the most interesting and
biggest revelation was the level of detail about Pakistan's spy service,
the ISI, and its involvement in the Afghan insurgency.
This is not blockbuster news. We've been reporting for several years
that the American intelligence community believes that the ISI helps
training and financing militant groups in Afghanistan. But what was
striking to us was the level of detail about named operatives in
Pakistan working with groups like the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani
Network, and naming specific meetings and the dates and the times and
And even when we threw out some of this information because we didn't
think it was credible, we were still left with a body of evidence that
we thought was - was very credible, and we then ran this by various U.S.
And they said that while they couldn't vouch for each individual
intelligence report, it broadly does track with what the American
intelligence community believes Pakistan's spy service is up to.
GROSS: So these documents detail how Pakistan has helped recruit and
train suicide bombers, how Pakistan has given safe haven to insurgents
who have attacked in Afghanistan. So it paints a portrait of Pakistan
being both our ally but also our enemy, giving haven to the people
attacking us and also aiding them.
Mr. MAZZETTI: Yes, and it's been very difficult over the last several
years to try to sort all these things out and try to get a sense of what
is and is not happening on the Pakistan side of the border.
There's no question that Pakistan is very worried about what happens in
Afghanistan in the future, if the United States were to leave, and with
the deadline approaching of July 2011, I think there's greater concern
in Pakistan that, you know, if the United States leaves, then what?
And I think most senior people in the intelligence and military
establishment believe that Pakistan hedges its bets. Pakistan will
maintain contacts with some of the groups, even the very groups fighting
the United States, because those might be long-term relationships they
Pakistan will also need some place at the table for any kind of future
settlement in Afghanistan. In other words, if this all ends in a big
negotiation, which since it's Afghanistan, it's likely to, the
Pakistanis want their own sphere of influence, and they want the people
that they can control, and right now those are Pashtuns in the south of
Afghanistan, and that means the Taliban.
So some of it is not just nefarious, that they, you know, would like to
tank the United States' war effort. I think it's that they would like to
maintain influence in the years to come.
GROSS: But in the meantime, it's such a Catch-22 because in part(ph)
Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban because they're hedging their
bets. Say the United States pulls out - then the Taliban would be
attacking Pakistan, if Pakistan wasn't already aligned with them.
So by Pakistan supporting the Taliban, hedging their bets in case the
U.S. pulls out, it's kind of forcing the U.S., in a way...
Mr. MAZZETTI: To pull out.
GROSS: ...to pull out, because how can they maintain a credible
relationship with Pakistan?
Mr. MAZZETTI: That's correct, and that's another head-scratcher in all
of this. The people, the smart people that we try to talk to to make
sense of this, think that Pakistan wants to do just enough to keep their
influence, just enough to tamp down Indian influence in Afghanistan and
sow enough instability that they can be able to control the whole
region, but not so â make it so unstable that Afghanistan devolves into
chaos and then that becomes a real problem on their Western border. So
it's also a bit of a - seems a bit of a dangerous game that they're
GROSS: Now, a lot of the people who have been closely following the war
in Afghanistan say that one of the genuine new details released in these
documents is that the Taliban have used heat-seeking missile to shoot
down allied aircraft. Is that really important, that information? And if
Mr. MAZZETTI: It's important in the sense that it shows that the Taliban
have had a new capability or a capability that the United States has not
publicly admitted to.
The heat-seeking missiles in another form, the Stinger missiles, were
what famously brought down the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The CIA and
the ISI helped arm the mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviets,
and the sort of real turning point in the war, many historians believe,
was the introduction of Stinger missiles into the theater.
So there's not â there's no evidence that we found in these documents
that the exact same Stinger missiles that the U.S. provided in the '80s
are now being used against the United States.
However, it shows that the Taliban have a pretty high level of
capability in their ability to shoot down American helicopters, drones,
and it also shows to some extent that the United States has been trying
to hide this fact.
One of our correspondents working on this project, Chris Chivers(ph),
who has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, said he's told repeatedly by
American military officials that the Taliban did not have heat-seeking
missiles and that sometimes when helicopters were brought down, they
make it sound like it was small arms fire, in others words AK-47s.
So he was quite struck by these documents that show that they did, in
fact, have heat-seeking missiles.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Mark Mazzetti. He's a
correspondent for the New York Times, who's covered national security
from the Washington bureau since 2006, and he's one of the reporters
from the Times who sifted through and analyzed the 92,000 documents
leaked by WikiLeaks.
Having read and covered these documents, do you think you were ever
mislead by the Bush or Obama administrations about what was happening in
Afghanistan or Pakistan?
Mr. MAZZETTI: No, I don't think that there was a deliberate effort to
mislead in any big way. I think governments will always try to put a
positive spin on any situation and will try to emphasize â accentuate
the positive out of a situation, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan or
I think that, though, that this document release gives this completely
unvarnished view of the war that shows not that there's been a
deliberate effort to mislead but that things are just a lot more
violent, a lot worse, and that the enemy is just a lot more viscous and
a lot stronger than we had been led to believe.
And so it's maybe a matter of degree, but I think that what's so
illuminating about these documents is just the sort of soldier's eye
view and even the general's eye view out in the field of what is going
on all around the country, from helicopter shoot-downs to IEDs to
suicide bombings to both successful and failed attempts at
It's kind of unprecedented in the sense that we haven't had this kind of
look at this level of a war before, I think.
GROSS: What do you think these leaked WikiLeaks documents that the New
York Times published, partially published, and analyzed, reveals about
what the Obama administration is up against now in Afghanistan?
Mr. MAZZETTI: One thing that struck us was that over the years, from
these reports, it seems that the Taliban gets stronger and smarter, that
their tactics get better, their ability to thwart American
countermeasures against them increase, improve.
So if the Obama administration is facing something, you know, as this
surge goes on, it is that the Taliban over eight years of fighting have
become pretty good at it and that it is then the question of whether
properly resourcing the war, as they say at the Pentagon, in other words
sending more troops to the field, will be able to counteract that
ability of the Taliban to adapt over time.
GROSS: Of all the secret documents that you sifted through, do you have
a favorite, so to speak?
Mr. MAZZETTI: There's a lot â I mean, there's a lot of really grim
reports there, and there's a lot of reports of civilian deaths and
I think the one that I found quite striking, and maybe because it is not
so grim, was just the minutes of a report between the head of
Afghanistan's spy service and military commanders in Bagram Air Base in
And the head of the Afghanistan spy service, the NDS, is Amrullah Saleh,
and he's giving this sort of long briefing to American officials, and at
the end he - according to the minutes - he then sort of makes this plea
for help, and he says, you know, our service has been basically
bankrolled by the CIA for eight years, and we haven't had to worry about
But starting next year, starting next fiscal year, the Afghan government
is taking over our budget, and that means we're going to get about a 30
percent budget cut. And so if you have any spare AK-47s or boots or
ammunition, you know, send them our way.
And it was an illuminating document because he â first of all, it was
widely assumed but not known that in fact the CIA had been totally
bankrolling Afghan's spy service for a number of years. But also just
this window into what it means when the Afghans take over, the Americans
leave, and the sort of money spigot dries up.
And his concern, this is Afghanistan's top spy, is whether his guys have
GROSS: So what does that say to you?
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, it says that when the drawdown happens, which the
White House says it is happening over time, there is a big question
about the ability of Afghanistan to stand without American troops and
without the millions and billions of dollars that go to Afghanistan
I think the big question is about Afghanistan's security forces and
Afghan police and whether they can, as they used to say in the Bush
administration, you know, stand up when the U.S. stands down.
So I think that even a year from now, when the so-called pullout begins,
that is - that's still going to be a big question.
GROSS: Now, one of the things these documents reveal is that a lot of
Afghan people hate the Afghan police and that the police are often
brutal in their treatment.
Mr. MAZZETTI: Yes, there's reports of rapes by Afghan police forces, no
question corruption, real brutality on the part of the Afghan police
force. And that's a problem, and it's been a recognized problem within
the U.S. government for a number of years, that the army of Afghanistan
is considered on a course to be able to sort of stand up whole divisions
or brigades and be able to â and is fighting in battle.
The police force is considered much more corrupt. There's a high
incidence of drug abuse in the police force, and as you said, brutality,
and that is something that, you know, many say for counterinsurgency,
which is the strategy we're employing now, police force is more
important even than the army because these are the police forces who are
in the villages, who pick up, who walk the beat, so to speak, and pick
up threat reports and try to protect the local population.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Mark Mazzetti. He's a New
York Times correspondent who's covered national security from the
Washington bureau since 2006. He shared a Pulitzer in 2009. He's one of
the Times reporters who sifted through and analyzed and reported on the
92,000 documents that were leaked by WikiLeaks about the war in
Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is New York Times
correspondent Mark Mazzetti, who's covered national security from the
Washington bureau since 2006. He's reported on Pakistan and Afghanistan
and Washington's response. He's one of the Times reporters who has
sifted through and analyzed the 92,000 documents leaked by WikiLeaks
about the war in Afghanistan.
Do you see these leaked documents as being a game-changer for the Obama
administration's way of waging war in Afghanistan?
Mr. MAZZETTI: I think the Obama administration can make a case, or they
are making the case, that, well, all of these documents end in December,
2009, when we announced our new strategy. We are sending more troops to
the field. So this is all in the past. We have a new strategy in place
that these documents don't reflect.
That is something that they can point to when you say the way of waging
war - this sort of counterinsurgency effort I think is still â it's
still unclear whether it'll work or not. It's still being put into place
So in terms of a game-changed, I don't think that they're going to
change the strategy at all because of these documents. I think they now
have a new commander, General Petraeus, who is carrying out the strategy
put in place by Stanley McChrystal, and that there's still more troops
coming to Afghanistan.
So they say it'll be at least through the summer and through the fall
before they can really start making an assessment of their current
GROSS: Now, I know some people are interpreting these documents as
proving that there's no such thing as winning in Afghanistan, that
you've got corruption in the government, you've got corruption in the
police, you've got Pakistan supporting insurgents, and that there's
really nothing that America can do that will change these underlying
And I just wonder what you think if you're willing to give your opinion
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, I think that â well, one of my colleagues, I won't
name him, but he said, you know, you go through these documents, it
gives this impression that, you know, the U.S. is holding onto a
steering wheel that's not connected to anything, it's not connected to
And so you can steer, and you can think you're adjusting the situation,
but there's so much else going on that it's a sort of false sense of
control over a situation because it's such a complicated country.
I don't know what winning in Afghanistan will look like. I think that
the expectations of what can come out of Afghanistan are a lot different
than they were in 2001 and 2002, when they were talking about, you know,
a stable democracy, a kind of Western democracy in Afghanistan. I don't
think anyone is expecting that.
I think winning for the Obama administration, as it's been defined by
the Obama administration, is taking away any kind of a refuge for al-
Qaida. It's building up Afghan security forces so that they can keep any
al-Qaida sanctuary out and be able to protect a form of central
It won't be a strong central government, but there's â I think the
assumption among the people who are doing this business now in
government is that there's going to be some kind of negotiation. There's
going to be a reconciliation of a lot of Taliban. There's going to be
some â the Taliban are not going to be wiped off the battlefield. They
are going to be part of some future of Afghanistan.
Now, it's not going to necessarily be Mullah Omar and his inner circle,
but it's going to be people who fought for the Taliban in the south that
are largely Pashtuns. You cannot cut them out of a future of
Afghanistan, or you're just inviting a future civil war.
GROSS: Although the Obama administration is opposed to these leaks from
WikiLeaks, the New York Times reports that some people in the Obama
administration are anonymously saying that this will really make it
easier to pressure Pakistan because now Pakistan's cooperation with the
Taliban is out in public, the American people know about it, and so
diplomats can confront it in a more head-on way. What do you make of
Mr. MAZZETTI: I think it's possible. I think that having these documents
out, and as much as Pakistan's government wants to say they're bogus
accounts, I mean, there is a certain amount of power of having the
actual documents, more than just having a story in the New York Times
saying American officials believe Pakistan's doing X, Y or Z - having
documents there does make a little bit of a more forceful case.
That being said, the Pakistan â the U.S. has been trying to browbeat
Pakistan for a number of years to cut these ties off and tried various
carrots and various sticks. And none have been quite successful in
cutting off this behavior.
You know, as I said, the documents end in the end of '09, but we talked
to some officials to sort of get their sense about whether this support
for the Taliban and other militant groups by the Pakistan spy service is
still going on, and they say yes, it is.
And I think that there is a â to some extent a resignation among
American officials that this will continue. As I said earlier, Pakistan
sees this as the future, and they are paranoid about an American
withdrawal coming up, and they think that if the Americans left, like
they say the Americans did right after the Soviets were kicked out, if
that happens again, then they're left holding the bag, and they've got
to manage all the different players.
So I think that there will be a continued effort by the Obama
administration to lean on Pakistan to cut this off, but how successful
it is, it's unclear. I mean, in many ways if you look at it from
Pakistani - Pakistan's viewpoint, you know, why would you stop this?
GROSS: My guest, Mark Mazzetti, will be back in the second half of the
show to talk more about the leaked documents. He's a national security
correspondent from the New York Times. I'm Terry Gross, and this is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
We're talking about the nearly 92,000 secret military documents about
the war in Afghanistan that were leaked to the organization WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks showed the documents to The New York Times, the British
newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel under the
condition that they hold off on publication until WikiLeaks posted the
documents on Sunday. The Pentagon is conducting a criminal investigation
into the source of the leaked documents.
My guest, Mark Mazzetti, is one of The New York Times reporters who
read, analyzed and reported on these documents. He's a national security
The Obama administration says there are secrets in these leaked
documents that should not have been made public. Do you agree?
Mr. MAZZETTI: There are aspects of the whole trove of documents
unredacted that we were not comfortable putting in the paper, that we
were not comfortable posting online. And so we did some of our own
redaction in terms of what we decided to post in terms of the raw
documents. There are a lot of named people in these documents - not
public figures, but, for instance, you know, Afghan sources who are
helping NATO troops. They actually name Pakistani operatives for the
ISI, active duty ISI operatives. Now, maybe these are nomdeguerres or
some kind of phony names, but we still weren't uncomfortable putting
some of those names in.
So I don't know the extent that WikiLeaks has - they say they've kept
thousands of documents off their website because of their concerns about
security. But yeah, these are pretty unfiltered reports, and so we had
to do our own assessment about what we were putting in the paper and
putting online and the impact it could have on security.
GROSS: I'd like to hear the story about how you were approached by
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, I have to say that I may not even know the whole
story. We - I was brought into the project after I think the initial
approaches had been made. My understanding of it is that The Guardian in
London had a relationship with Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks -
or if not a relationship, they knew him and they knew how to contact
him. And it had been reported for several weeks that, you know,
WikiLeaks may have access to troves of documents and American, military
and State Department documents. And I believe it was The Guardian that
first approached him and convinced him to use some â to have his
documents come out after they had been looked at by a couple news
organizations. So I believe it was The Guardian.
And then the New York Times came in after The Guardian. And one of my
colleagues went to London to begin looking at the documents and quickly
found that this was far more than a one person job, and then they
brought a team of about five of us in to beginning looking through them.
So it was kind of an interesting case study in journalism in that you
had a couple different news organizations - which are normally very
competitive - had access to all the same documents.
Now, what we didn't do was share all of our analysis or conclusions, or
make sure that we all were on the same page of what we were concluding
in the documents. We came to our own conclusions, and I think that sort
of shows in the sometimes different coverage in the three news
organizations, which was The Times, The Guardian and the German
magazine, Der Spiegel.
GROSS: How do you think The New York Times standards about what
documents should be made public and which should not compares to
WikiLeaks' standards about what to make public?
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, I don't actually have a firm grasps on what
WikiLeaks' standards are. I mean, they have said in the past that they
are committed to putting everything out there, as much as possible, you
know, whatever the consequences might be. In this case, I do think that
they seem to be making an effort, sifting through I think about 10 to 15
documents, to make sure that they're okay to post. So I think that that
shows some responsibility on their part.
For The Times, it's something we kind of go through every day. We - if
you cover national security, you're always coming across very sensitive
information and have to have a lot of serious discussions internally
about what we want to put out and what we don't want to put out. We air
on the side of disclosure. That's our job. We want more information out,
as opposed to less. But we are also willing to listen to cases be made,
sometimes by the government, about how a specific piece of information
might do damage - more - you know, damage that we might not be able to
think of. So we're open to those arguments, and we always listen. And in
some cases, we take things out, and sometimes we don't.
GROSS: Well, in fact, you met at the White House with - who? About the
Mr. MAZZETTI: We met with Robert Gibbs and two members of his staff last
Thursday, more as a - we wanted to tell them we had the documents, but
we also wanted to â we gave them a series of specific questions that
came from the documents that we wanted to have answered. We wanted to
actually speak to a - some senior White House officials about the
documents, to sort of get their response as to what we were concluding
from the documents. So we really - we did it for a more - to start a
discussion about the documents and what they said. And then what
happened was on, I believe it was Saturday or Sunday, the White House
just sent us a few statements.
GROSS: What did you want to know?
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, the first question we had asked them was on
Pakistan, was with - you know, in light of all this evidence, this very
detailed evidence about Pakistan's spy service, how does the White House
come out and continue to proclaim Pakistan to be an ally? And why does -
how do you justify giving a billion dollars a year annually in military
aid? I think it's a pretty straightforward question, because, you know,
when you look at it, if you look at these documents, you see, you know,
the spy service of your ally helping out the guys you're fighting in
Afghanistan. And that does raise puzzling questions about why you're
giving a billion dollars each year to Pakistan. So we kind of wanted to
put that question bluntly to them.
GROSS: And what kind of response did you get?
Mr. MAZZETTI: We got a response that - we didn't get a direct response.
They emailed us a response a couple days later. They said that, you
know, the Pakistan - the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is far from
perfect. They said that the status quo is, they said, is not acceptable,
but Pakistan is taking great steps to cut its ties to militants and
they're sort of moving in the right direction, and that aid to Pakistan
GROSS: How do the public comments coming from the Obama administration
about the WikiLeaks story compare to what members of the administration
told you in private before you published?
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, you know, they're certainly very angry about â the
public statements have been very angry about the release, calling it a,
you know, breach of law and have said that, you know, this is incredibly
unhelpful to, you know, for the war efforts. In fairness to them, they
didn't have the documents when we approached them. We didn't give them
to them. And so they were in discussions. I mean, their discussions with
us were sort of around whether we are going to get any White House
officials to talk to or not, and if not, you know, when their statements
are going to come out.
We didn't have extensive discussions. We went in. We told them we had
the documents. We told then what we were asking for, and they said
they'd get back to us. And so, I mean, I do think that the White House -
and I think that the White House has said over the weekend that they
thought that The Times handled the situation responsibly in the sense
that they - in that The Times was not putting every single piece of
information out. And I think they appreciated the heads-up that we gave
them that we had the documents.
And we didn't do it just to give them a heads up. We wanted actual
information. We wanted to speak to them and have them answer questions
about what these documents revealed.
GROSS: Do you consider Julian Assange of WikiLeaks to be an activist or
a journalist, or some combination of the two?
Mr. MAZZETTI: He certainly seems to be an activist. The statements he
made yesterday about the Afghanistan war were not anything you saw in
The New York Times. He has very definite viewpoints about the war and
comes out and says them, which is his right. We treated him as a source,
or treated WikiLeaks as a source, like we treat a lot of other sources.
We will take information from almost anyone. But it's our job to sift
through the information to make sure it's credible, to make sure it's
newsworthy. And in both cases, we thought the answer was yes.
So, you know, so it's - sometimes we have very complicated relationships
with sources, and no sources are perfect at all. And we don't choose who
we â sometimes we don't choose our sources. The sources come to us. But
we're in the business of information, and we want more information. And
we will take the information, as we did in this case, and present it our
own way. So that's kind of, I think, how we approached this project.
GROSS: What did you have, about a month between the time the documents
were leaked to you and the time you actually published the story?
Mr. MAZZETTI: I think it was about three weeks to a month. My colleague
Eric Schmitt went over to London, I think, about a month ago and then -
but it was really around two-and-a-half to three weeks of really solid
research that we were doing in New York before the stories were
published on Sunday.
GROSS: So during the few weeks that you had to actually read through,
digest and analyze the leaked documents, what caused you to lose sleep,
because you were worried, confused, not sure what to do?
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, as a reporter, you're very rarely confronted with
this amount of information, and so it's almost - it's the reverse of the
situation you're normally in, which is too little information. Here, we
are confronted with such a volume of information that it's hard to make
sense of it and it's hard to know how to - which parts to emphasize and
which parts not to. I mean, we were â I didn't lose sleep over the idea
that we would be putting people in harm's way directly, because I was
confident that before all was said and done, we would do a good job
through our own process of taking out things that we thought were
I think that, as a competitive journalist, I worried that we've had
three weeks to look through 92,000 documents and we're going to post
everything online. And then someone else is going to uncover some great
scoop that we missed. That was one thing that I lost sleep over. But
more substantively, also, I think that you just don't know the impact
that something like this will have on an overall - on the war.
I mean, you know, you have no idea how it's going to ricochet around
Washington, how it's going to ricochet in Afghanistan, and then
Pakistan. I mean, this is the sort of centerpiece of American foreign
policy, now, is the war in Afghanistan. And so the impact of this
project, we couldn't really predict. And I think that was what we all
were just holding our breath about, I guess.
GROSS: And is it still too soon to know?
Mr. MAZZETTI: It's still too soon to know, I think, because, you know,
this is a lot of information to digest. I'm sure a lot of people haven't
even sifted through the documents themselves. And so I think that, you
know, it may be, you know, months or years before we know. Because I
think that one value of this trove of documents is that historians will
be able to have a sense of the Afghanistan war. People will write
dissertations about these documents. Now, they're hard to read and
they're really dense, and as I said, there's a lot that's not really all
that interesting or illuminating in them. But there is. It's an amazing
ground-level view of the war, and I think that it will be some time
before we really know what the impact is.
You know, in the last day or so, there's been a lot of comparisons
thrown around - not by The Times, but people talking about is it the
Pentagon Papers? Is it not the Pentagon Papers? And I just don't think
there's an easy parallel to this, because they're very different than
the Pentagon Papers. The Pentagon Papers were a very polished study done
by the Pentagon about senior-level decision making during the Vietnam
War. This is much more unpolished, very raw, and at a much lower level.
But it's still incredibly fascinating, because it shows how - it's what
we call the sort of daily diary of the war, and it's how the military
sees the war as it's going on. And I think that's what makes it
GROSS: My guest Mark Mazzetti is a national security correspondent for
The New York Times.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Mark Mazzetti. He's a The
New York Times correspondent who has covered national security since
2006, and he's one of The Times reporters who read, analyzed and
reported on the 92,000 documents about the war in Afghanistan that were
leaked by WikiLeaks.
Now, you had said that you and several other people from the Times met
at the White House with Robert Gibbs and a couple of other people from
the Obama administration before publishing, and basically, you wanted
information from them. You weren't asking for permission to publish.
Mr. MAZZETTI: No. Right.
GROSS: And - nor did they ask you to not publish.
Mr. MAZZETTI: They did not ask us not to publish.
GROSS: Right. But there was another time when you had a story and you
did want some consultation about whether to publish or not. And I'm
thinking about a story from February of 2010, when you had information
about the capture of a Taliban leader who was the top military commander
in the Afghan-Taliban, and he was captured in Pakistan. Why did you go
to the White House for that story?
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, actually we didnât. They called us in. We went to
them for - like we always do - every story we do for the paper we will
always ask for comment from whether itâs the CIA, the White House, the
Pentagon or the State Department. We had information that Mullah
(unintelligible) had been captured in Pakistan by the CIA and that he
was in custody in Pakistan. And we were solid â me and my colleague,
Dexter Filkins, were very confident in the story. And so we, I think,
emailed the White House for comment. And then thatâs what escalated it.
They contacted my editor in Washington and said please come in, we want
to talk to you. So thatâs when this process started of them asking us to
delay publication. So what we did was go to them for comments and they
then put together a strategy to try to keep us from ever publishing it.
GROSS: From ever publishing it?
Mr. MAZZETTI: Well, they wanted a significant delay. I think they were
looking for several weeks. We agreed that we would go on a day by basis
but we were never expecting that we were going to hold it for that
length of time. I think in the end it was three days that we held the
GROSS: What was their case for holding the story?
Mr. MAZZETTI: Their case for holding the story was that the â they first
of all said yes, youâre right, he is in custody. But it doesnât appear
that the Taliban know that he is in custody. In other words, weâve got
him but his own colleagues donât know he's captured, so that there's
some value in watching the Taliban operate, as they still think one of
their commanders is still in the field. They didnât provide us - they
didnât tell us whether they had captured any kind of communications
equipment with him or whether they were able to monitor any kind of
radio or cell phone or anything like that, we never got that sense. But
they made it sound that it was particularly sensitive at that moment to
publish information that he was captured because it would dry up some
very valuable stream of intelligence.
Within a couple days though, it was starting to get out in the field.
Some of our stringers in Kabul and Kandahar were starting to pick up
word that maybe this guy was in custody, so we believed it was out in
the open at that point and we went to the White House and we said we're
planning to publish and they didnât put up an objection, and so we went
with the story a couple days afterwards.
GROSS: Now, your colleague, James Risen, at The New York Times - I think
youâve actually collaborated on some articles - was subpoenaed in April
and is risking prison if he doesnât turn over his sources for a chapter
in his book. And it was Risen who broke the story about the National
Security Agency conducting warrantless wiretapping. So he's in a
difficult situation now. And as you watch him, I'm wondering how you
grade the Obama administration for freedom of the press?
Mr. MAZZETTI: I'm a little wary of giving them a grade or making it
sound like I'm giving too much of my own opinion on this front. I mean I
think that Jimâs case â Jim Risen's case â shows that the government
remains very aggressive about clamping down on security information â
national security information leaking out.
I would say it does not seem that there's been a real distinction
between the Bush administration and the Obama administration on this
issue. And I think, you know, Jim was quite surprised that a subpoena
that had expired at the end of the Bush administration was then renewed
under the Obama administration.
So I think that itâs a fact that in this sort of post-9/11 age that the
government is going to try its hardest to keep sensitive information
from coming out. The press is going to try to be as transparent as
possible with its readers and with its viewers, and even as they keep in
mind, you know, the danger of some of the information coming out - and
then weâll have to make our own judgments about harm.
So, you know, I think that thereâs a â I think that itâs pretty tense
right now between the press and the government on a lot of these issues.
GROSS: Do you think the American people should have the information that
WikiLeaks has leaked?
Mr. MAZZETTI: I think that a vast amount of the information is in the
publicâs interest. Itâs important to - for the public to have a window
into this war, from all fronts - the good, the bad and the ugly. And I
think that there is not a - necessarily a public interest in having, you
know, specific names of informants, that type of stuff that we found to
be particularly sensitive. But I think the vast majority of these
documents are in the publicâs interest and that the public does have a
right to know.
GROSS: Mark Mazzetti, thank you very, very much for talking with us.
Mr. MAZZETTI: Thanks for having me.
GROSS: Mark Mazzetti is a national security correspondent for The New
York Times. You can find links to the entire The New York Times series
on the leaked documents on our website, freshair.npr.org.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
'Rubicon': Smart Spies Who Connect The Dots
TERRY GROSS, host:
People who kept their dial tuned to AMC after the season finale of
âBreaking Badâ and the season premier of âMad Menâ may have been
surprised to see a sneak preview of AMCâs new original series. Itâs
called "Rubicon" and itâs a modern-day spy thriller.
On Sunday, AMC presents the first two hours of "Rubicon," and our TV
critic, David Bianculli, considers it a triumph.
DAVID BIANCULLI: Before I describe what âRubiconâ is, let me make clear
what it isn't. It isn't the kind of show you can watch while
multitasking and hope to make any sense of it, much less enjoy it. You
have to pay attention - and even then, many of the things you're looking
at won't be clear at first.
But that doesn't only relate to the show - it's also what the show is
about. And that's why, if you give it a chance, âRubiconâ will earn its
way onto your have-to-watch list.
âRubiconâ is a drama series about the workaday analysts at a fictional
present-day American spy agency called the American Policy Institute -
API for short. The API is a sort of central clearinghouse for
intelligence gathering, a way to make sense of all the conversations,
observations and evidence collected by the FBI, CIA and others.
Every night these agencies pass on their findings to the API - and the
API's job is to sift through the piles, detect patterns, and connect all
the dots. Other spies get to drive the Aston Martins and bed enemy
agents; these guys, back in a nondescript New York office building, do
all the drudge work - and the really serious thinking.
But they all have complicated, messed-up personal lives - and in what's
probably an occupational hazard, they have a lot of trust issues too.
With good reason: Some of the co-workers are spying on each other, and
as âRubiconâ begins, more than one high-level spy suddenly dies.
This spy-versus-spy stuff has echoes of ABC's âAlias,â but its true TV
ancestor is the fabulous British miniseries âTinker, Tailor, Soldier,
Spy.â It isn't the action that gets you. It's the suspense, the
suspicion, the paranoia. Except it's not paranoia if they really are out
to get you. And in âRubiconâ they are.
The central character in Rubicon is Will Travers, a brilliant
intelligence analyst with a tragic past and with one true friend at the
agency: his boss, David. Will is played by James Badge Dale, last seen
as Leckie in the HBO miniseries âThe Pacificâ; David is played by Peter
Gerety, that fabulous character actor from âHomicide: Life on the
Street,â âThe Wireâ and elsewhere.
Will is comfortable enough to come to David with anything - even
something as seemingly random as an odd pattern he finds in crossword
puzzles published by different newspapers the same day. The clues in
those puzzles aren't the same - but in a few select instances the
(Soundbite of TV show, âRubiconâ)
Mr. JAMES BADGE DALE (Actor): (as Will Tavers) David, I think I found a
pattern in the big ticket papers. There might be others. I'm not sure,
but itâs not just the repetition. Three down. Two chambers of the
legislative branch - bicameral. Simple enough. Two across. Fillmore.
With the Warlocks, later known as the Grateful Dead, played in San
Francisco, but also Millard Fillmore, lard-ass, no-nonsense 13th
president. The executive. Four down. Wood-be alma mater of felonious
record holding wide receiver. Answer: Marshall, as in Randy Moss,
Marshall University, Thundering Herd, but also Thurgood Marshall.
Judicial. Five down. What do lucky lepidoptera larvae eat? Answer:
Mr. PETER GERETY (Actor): (as David) Which is?
Mr. DALE: (as Will Tavers) Four-leaf clover. Our three branches of
government are here: legislative, executive, judicial. What or who does
that fourth leaf represent and whatâs the message?
BIANCULLI: Like I said, these guys are smart - and so is âRubicon.â
Jason Horwitch, who wrote a clever FX telemovie about the Pentagon
Papers, created the show, and its executive producer is writer-director
Henry Bromell. I never really got Bromell's âCarnivaleâ series for HBO,
but I've loved lots of the other stuff on which he's worked, including
âHomicideâ and âNorthern Exposure.â
The creators of this new TV series are upfront about being inspired by
some of the greatest conspiracy thriller movies of the 1970s: âAll the
President's Men,â âThree Days of the Condor,â and that underrated
classic, âThe Parallax View.â But âRubiconâ isn't just an homage - it's
a much needed update. In an era when we're all being watched, one way or
another, the question who's watching the watchers becomes even more
The more time you spend with the watchers at API, the more fragile they
are - and the more fascinating. Lauren Hodges from âIn Treatmentâ plays
one of Will's co-workers, and the widow of one of the early fatalities
is played by Miranda Richardson.
I've seen the first four episodes of âRubicon,â and each one is a little
more frightening and mind-blowing. Episode two is the one that hooks
you, so you have to be a little patient. But after that, I doubt you'll
ever look at crossword puzzles, or four-leaf clovers, the same way
GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for TVWorthWatching.com and teaches
television and film at Rowan University in New Jersey.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.