At Medill, 9/11 Commissioner Criticizes Reporting of Intelligence

By: Charles Geraci Former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson, a moderate Republican who served on the 9/11 Commission, criticized the press during remarks yesterday at Northwestern University?s Medill School of Journalism, charging that newspapers hurt the search for Osama bin Laden by publishing a story revealing that the United States was tracking his cell phone.

?Osama was using his cell phone from Afghanistan,? said Thompson, who served as governor from 1977 to 1991. ?He does not use his cell phone any more because the press published a story that said we had his cell phone targeted. I wish they had not reported that.?

Thompson continued, ?I understand the role of a free press in American society, but when you?re dealing with matters of intelligence, I?d like to see the press be a little more careful in what they print and don?t print.

Noting the hunt for bin Laden is ?intense,? Thompson said: ?He is on Mondays on the Afghan side of the mountains, and on Wednesdays, he?s on the Pakistani side.?

When a questioner asked how close the United States has come to capturing him, Thompson responded, ?I don?t think we were ever that close.?

Considering the likelihood of future terrorist attacks on the United States, Thompson said: ?I don?t think another attack will come via a dirty bomb or a nuclear device. I think if they attack us again it will come with simpler weapons.?

Thompson believes the terrorists will use another attack on a common American experience, like poisoning produce at a grocery store or targeting a shopping mall, to spread panic among U.S. citizens. ?Then the shopping malls and the grocery stores will be deserted,? he said. ?We might be eating canned goods, not trusting produce.?

What kind of job does Thompson think the press did covering the 9/11 Commission? ?It was fair,? he told E&P after the talk. He said the commissioners ?absolutely? followed the media coverage surrounding the Commission, and, he said, ?we still follow it.?


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