NEW YORK –- The U.S. Department of Justice may try seeking out the source of a bombshell article that revealed National Security Agency surveillance of millions of Americans, according to NBC News Justice correspondent Pete Williams.
Glenn Greenwald reported in The Guardian Wednesday night that the NSA is indiscriminately collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top-secret U.S. court order, a major scoop detailing the extent of domestic surveillance that comes amid increasing civil liberties concerns and controversial leak investigations involving the Associated Press and Fox News.
On Thursday’s "Morning Joe," New York City Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson asked if Greenwald would be investigated and suggested the White House would face many questions about the Guardian story.
“They may not be prepared to answer that question,” Wolfson said. “But given what happened with Fox, given what happened with AP, that will be a very hot topic today.”
Williams, a well-sourced reporter who just interviewed Attorney General Eric Holder last night about the leak investigations, jumped in with an answer.
“I was told last night: definitely there will be a leak investigation,” he said.
However, a senior administration official told The Huffington Post Thursday morning that it's premature to suggest an investigation is certain to take place.
“There’s been no referral yet from the intelligence community,” the official said.
On MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" later Thursday morning, Williams slightly walked back his earlier comments from certainty to near certainty. "It seems highly likely this will trigger a leak investigation," he told host Chuck Todd.
While no investigation is yet underway, Williams said, "It just seems very likely, given the sensitivity of this document, that there will be one."
For the story, The Guardian obtained and published the top-secret court order granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that shows the U.S. government is collecting records of millions of U.S. Verizon customers, "regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing." While the government can obtain the records of calls taking place, the order does not allow the seizure of the contents of any conversations. It remains unclear whether the NSA is obtaining records from other phone companies.
"Under the Bush administration, officials in security agencies had disclosed to reporters the large-scale collection of call records data by the NSA," Greenwald wrote, "but this is the first time significant and top-secret documents have revealed the continuation of the practice on a massive scale under President Obama."
On Wednesday night, the American Civil Liberties Union described the NSA's massive collecting of phone records as "beyond Orwellian."
The Guardian article has already gotten significant pick-up in the media, with follow-up stories leading the websites of The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal Thursday morning. More questions about domestic surveillance involving millions of Americans, and a potential leak investigation into the source of the story, can be expected to follow.