American magazine Newsweek insisted that Tom Mangold’s story on the capture of a London-based arms dealer had compromised US intelligence’s antiterrorist operations, despite an on-therecord denial by an attorney.
Armed with this denial from Christopher Christie, the former Panorama reporter is preparing to sue the weekly current affairs magazine for defamation, with the full backing of the BBC. It has not yet been decided where the case will be brought.
In his BBC News reports on 12 August, Mangold detailed the capture in New Jersey of Hemant Lakhani, a London-based businessman caught in a sting operation while trying to sell missiles to an undercover FBI agent posing as a terrorist.
The day after, Newsweek reporters Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball wrote an article suggesting that Mangold’s reports “had blown a rare opportunity to penetrate Al-Qaida’s arms-buying network” by leaking the story before the authorities were ready. They quoted a “law-enforcement official” as saying “senior Justice Department officials were not happy”.
Newsweek also reported that Mangold’s assertion that Lakhani was part of a terrorist plot to shoot down Air Force One – the US president’s official plane – with the missiles was “falsely claimed”. The BBC reporter stands by his claim. However, in an interview with CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer on the same day, the US attorney denied that the investigation was compromised by Mangold’s report.
During the interview, Blitzer quizzed Christie about what he made of Newsweek’s story. Blitzer asked: “There’s a report in Newsweek suggesting there may have been a premature leak of all of this sting operation in London causing you guys to go ahead and arrest him, although some officials at the Justice Department supposedly had hoped you could have turned Lakhani and made him a witness and, in fact, get him to work for the US.”
Christie replied: “I don’t make much of it. I think everything went according to the plan that we had been laying out over a long period of time â€¦ yesterday we executed the plan in almost exactly the way we laid it out.” Blitzer finally asked: “Is there any evidence as far as you can tell, and obviously you’re on top of this more than anyone else, that leaks to the news media, whether in Britain or here in the United States, compromised your investigation?” Christie replied: “Absolutely not.” Mangold said that Blitzer later interviewed Louis Allen, the FBI special agent in charge of the case. He said: “At no stage in the interview did Allen say the BBC report caused any problems.”
MANGOLD SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT
Mangold told Press Gazette his report could not have compromised the FBI sting because, contrary to popular perception in the UK, he had not broken the story first. “At 21.22 on the day, Reuters sent a newsflash quoting ABC as saying that a British man had been arrested on a missile charge in Newark. And bloody ITN flashed it up ahead of us,” he said.
But he does claim the world exclusive on the terrorist threat to Air Force One. “We were the only people who publicised the fact that Air Force One might be involved in this plot, but from the very beginning the FBI has said it won’t confirm that,” he added.
By Wale Azeez