Quick, answer this: Has any 2013 intelligence leak been worse for US counterterror surveillance efforts than Edward Snowden's big document dump? No? You're wrong, at least according to the New York Times, which talked to unnamed senior officials and government analysts who say the title belongs to an August revelation tied to the huge attack al-Qaeda was planning in Yemen. After word leaked that the US intercepted communications between Ayman al-Zawahri and Yemen affiliate chief Nasser al-Wuhayshi, terrorists have severely dialed back their use of what the Times describes as a "major communications channel" the US was tracking.
"The switches weren't turned off, but there has been a real decrease in quality," says one official. That's a much more damaging effect than Snowden has had, the sources say: Terrorists have been overheard discussing his revelations, but those revelations haven't led to a significant abandoning of electronic communications. The Times points out that McClatchy was the first to report the news of the intercept; McClatchy's Washington bureau chief told the Huffington Post at the time that it got the news out of Yemen, where it was "pretty much common knowledge." Tweets Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, "This @nytimes story pretty much accuses McClatchy journalists of helping al Qaeda."