At a time when Washington seems to be awash in suspicions as to who’s leaking what to the media, it’s hard to believe that a Department of Homeland Security scientist would accidentally leave sensitive documents in the seat-back pocket of an airplane. It’s even harder to believe that the person who occupied the next seat happened to work for CNN.
But that was the unlikely background for an article the news outlet published on Monday. The documents included a December 2017 report, marked “For Official Use Only” and “important for national security,” evaluating how prepared various officials were in the event of a biological attack at the 2018 Super Bowl. According to the documents, there were various areas that could have been improved, mainly among local officials.
The boarding pass and travel itinerary that CNN also found belonged to Michael V. Walter, the government scientist who runs BioWatch, a DHS program that ran anthrax drills before Sunday’s game, according to CNN.
Aware that CNN had obtained the documents, the agency requested that the news outlet not publish anything related to the report before the Super Bowl, CNN said, and asked that it withhold some of the material out of national security concerns. The network complied.
“This exercise was a resounding success and was not conducted in response to any specific, credible threat of a bioterrorism attack,” DHS acting press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement, noting that preparation for the game took two years. “It is important that operators regularly exercise their capabilities against a wide range of scenarios in order to effectively counter the changing threat environment.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mistakenly indicated the documents were classified.