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Leak of Qaeda suspect name criticized

Page 2 of 2 -- Blitzer asserted: ''He was disclosed in Washington on background."

Rice replied: ''On background. And the problem is that when you're trying to strike a balance between giving enough information to the public so they know that you're dealing with a specific, credible, different kind of threat than you've dealt with in the past, you're always weighing that against operational considerations. We've tried to strike a balance."

Later in the show, Blitzer said this exchange meant Rice had confirmed that the administration released Khan's name to a reporter on background -- an interpretation repeated in later news accounts. But Sean McCormack, a National Security Council spokesman, said yesterday that Rice did not say the leak came from American officials.

''She was in the middle of making a point and he interrupted her, and she reflexively repeated 'on background,' but she was not confirming it and went on to complete her thought," McCormack said.

Senior intelligence officials gave a background briefing to reporters Aug. 1 after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced an orange alert for sites in New York, Washington, and Newark. Khan's name does not appear in the transcript.

The day of Ridge's press conference, an intelligence official told the Globe that the information came from an unannounced arrest in Pakistan, but declined to provide the identity of the detained person for fear of revealing a CIA operation. That official, reached again yesterday, said he was referring to Khan at the time.

A CIA official declined to comment on why the government has provided more details about recent terrorist intelligence, and outside analysts said it was difficult to know whether politics played a role.

''The problem that we have today is that the president has made terrorism the central theme of his reelection campaign, which means that every action . . . will be questioned for its politics," said David Heyman, homeland security program director at the Center for International and Strategic Studies.

But several senior intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed dismay at the level of information that has been revealed to the media -- particularly the role that Khan's arrest has played.

''Most of the people I talk to are most shocked by some of the recent details being revealed about Al Qaeda," said one senior CIA analyst who works on terrorism issues. 

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Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan's arrest had been kept secret.
Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan's arrest had been kept secret. (AP Photo )
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