Washington The Justice Department has opened another investigation into leaks of classified information, this time to determine who divulged the existence of President Bush's secret domestic spying program.
The inquiry focuses on disclosures to The New York Times about warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency since the 9-11 terrorist attacks, officials said.
The newspaper recently revealed the existence of the program in a front-page story that also acknowledged that the news had been withheld from publication for a year, partly at the request of the administration and partly because the newspaper wanted more time to confirm various aspects of the program.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the Justice Department undertook the action on its own, and Bush was informed of it Friday.
"The leaking of classified information is a serious issue. The fact is that al-Qaida's playbook is not printed on Page One and when America's is, it has serious ramifications," Duffy told reporters in Crawford, Texas, where Bush was spending the holidays.
Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for the Times, declined to comment.
Disclosure of the secret spying program two weeks ago unleashed a firestorm of criticism of the administration. Some critics accused the president of breaking the law by authorizing intercepts of conversations - without prior court approval or oversight - of people inside the United States and abroad who had suspected ties to al-Qaida or its affiliates.
Bush, who publicly acknowledged the program's existence and described how it operates, has argued that the initiative is legal in a time of war.
The inquiry launched Friday is only the most recent effort by the Bush administration to determine who is disclosing information to journalists.
Two years ago, a special counsel was named to investigate who inside the White House gave reporters the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, an effort that led to perjury and obstruction of justice charges against Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, Lewis I. "Scooter" Libby.
More recently, the Justice Department has begun examining whether classified information was illegally disclosed to The Washington Post about a network of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
The NSA leak probe was launched after the Justice Department received a request from the spy agency.
The NSA probe likely will result in a repeat of last summer's events in Washington, where reporters were subpoenaed to testify about who told them about Plame's work. New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal her sources.