News organizations publishing leaked National Security Agency documents have inadvertently disclosed the names of at least six intelligence workers and other government secrets they never intended to give away, an Associated Press review has found.
The accidental disclosures illustrate the risks of even well-intentioned, public-interest reporting on highly secret U.S. programs.
In some cases, prominent newspapers including The New York Times quickly pulled down government records they published online and recensored them to hide information they accidentally exposed. On one occasion, the Guardian newspaper published an NSA document that appeared to identify an American intelligence target living abroad. Before the newspaper could fix its mistake, a curious software engineer, Ron Garret of Emerald Hills, Calif., tried to contact the man at his office.
"I figured someone ought to give him the heads up," Garret told The Associated Press.
The inadvertent disclosures, which include technical details and other information, are another complication in the ethically and technically challenging coverage of the NSA's surveillance programs. Journalists who have seen the unfiltered secrets leaked by former intelligence worker Edward Snowden agree that some things are off-limits for publication. But media organizations sometimes have struggled to keep them that way.