WASHINGTON – Sen. Richard Shelby (search) accused federal law enforcement officials of abuse Thursday after a newspaper reported that federal investigators had concluded he leaked to the media classified messages from the eve of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources familiar with the investigation, reported that the Alabama Republican's role had been confirmed to FBI investigators by FOX News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron. Cameron denied that.
The newspaper said the alleged leak was from a June 19, 2002, interview, following a classified briefing to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (search). At the time Shelby was the committee's vice chairman.
A statement released by Shelby's office said the senator "never knowingly compromised classified information."
In question are two messages intercepted by the National Security Agency (search) a day before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Those messages contained the words "the match begins tomorrow" and "tomorrow is zero day," but they were not translated from Arabic until Sept. 12.
Shelby's office said, in a statement released Thursday by his spokeswoman, Virginia Davis, "It bears noting that this story represents a grotesque abuse of a public trust on the part of law enforcement."
"For someone in law enforcement to express one-sided, personal views anonymously to the media while the investigation itself is still under way and while the matter is pending before the Senate Ethics Committee is unprofessional and grossly unfair," Shelby's statement said.
Last month, the Justice Department referred the matter to the Ethics Committee.
Justice Department officials declined to comment on the newspaper report or Shelby's accusation.
Two people who attended the June 19 classified briefing said Shelby aggressively questioned officials about the intercepted messages. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because it was a closed-door meeting.
Intelligence officials said disclosing the Sept. 10 interceptions was harmful because it might have tipped off terrorists that one of their channels of communication had been compromised.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Cameron acknowledged that the FBI talked to him about the investigation, but he denied naming Shelby as a leaker.
"It's flat wrong," Cameron said. "The sum total of my interaction was to tell them that there was no information they could get from Carl Cameron or FOX News and to refer them to my lawyers."
Cameron said he didn't air the material until after it was already reported by CNN. According to the Post's sources, Shelby met with a CNN reporter after he spoke with Cameron, and the network broadcast the information an hour after that.