SAN DIEGO — Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger castigated the media Friday for news leaks that he said stripped the element of surprise from U.S.-Bolivian raids on the South American nation's high-production cocaine laboratories.
"Some element of surprise was indeed lost," and the lives of 160 U.S. soldiers and drug agents participating in the raids were put at risk because of the press reports, Weinberger said at a news conference before delivering a speech to the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce.
The raids began Friday with an attack on a cocaine laboratory on a ranch north of the Bolivian city of Trinidad and are expected to last 60 days.
Weinberger criticized the journalists who reported on the planned operation before it began as well as the officials who leaked information to them.
"It's a key tactical element that is lost because people are irresponsible enough to print everything they hear," he said. "It would be much better if there was a degree of responsibility in the people that print these things. It would be even better if the people who knew about them didn't leak them out.
"It's much better if people will recognize that even though they are free to print anything they want that sometimes it would be better to exercise some element of restraint when the lives of our troops can be lost," he declared.
The Times' Decision
The Times learned of plans for the operation last week but withheld the story to avoid premature disclosure of the raids. The Times decided to publish the story Wednesday, only after the plans were revealed a day earlier in the Bolivian press.
Weinberger declined to discuss details of the Bolivian operation and said he was unsure whether similar operations in other countries are planned, although The Times has reported such raids in Colombia and Peru are also under consideration.