From John Cook at Yahoo! News Blog:
Risen defended the article against claims that Afghanistan's mineral wealth was largely a matter of public knowledge prior to his story. "If it wasn't news, then why didn't anybody write about it?" he asked.
In fact, McClatchy Newspapers reported last year that "the region is thought to hold some of the world's last major untapped deposits of iron, copper, gold, uranium, precious gems and other raw materials." In February, Agence France Presse quoted Afghan president Hamid Karzai, citing a U.S. Geological Survey study, claiming that his country had $1 trillion in mineral assets. Just last month, Karzai repeated the claim at a U.S. Institute of Peace event, saying the value was between $1 trillion and $3 trillion.
John Cook goes on to report the sequence of events, according to Risen, that led to the story. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Brinkley, who has responsibility for rebuilding Iraq's economy according to Defense.gov, dispatched a team to evaluate Afghan mineral wealth in 2009. That team, according to internal Penatgon memos, returned with a valuation of Afghan riches at $900 billion. They used information from the U.S. Geological Survey and old Soviet data. There is no information to date on who was on the team and no reporting so far of their methodology or qualifications. According to Risen:
"The value of what Brinkley's team did was to put together and connect the dots on a lot of information that had been put on the shelf. And they did new research and came up with a lot of new data and put everything together in a more comprehensive way."
A consultant on the Brinkley team, former CIA official Milt Bearden, contacted Risen several months ago about their findings. Risen says Bearden resisted his requests for a story, but after much arm-twisting, he convinced Brinkley to cooperate. Brinkley then convinced Gen. David Petraeus to agree to an interview and so did Brinkley himself.
Cook also reports Risen was very much offended that bloggers around the country questioned the article and it's timing:
Risen didn't take kindly to the blogospheric criticism. "Bloggers should do their own reporting instead of sitting around in their pajamas," Risen said.
"The thing that amazes me is that the blogosphere thinks they can deconstruct other people's stories," Risen told Yahoo! News during an increasingly hostile interview, which he called back to apologize for almost immediately after it ended. "Do you even know anything about me? Maybe you were still in school when I broke the NSA story, I don't know. It was back when you were in kindergarten, I think."
So, in summary, a Pentagon official sends a team of CIA guys to Afghanistan to come up with a valuation of the country's wealth. They come back with $900 billion. A member of the team contacts a New York Times reporter to "tell him what they were finding." Apparently, they thought the reporter was extremely interested in Afghan geology, although he has no history of such writing. Next, the reporter interviews all the people who contacted him. Then the story runs on the front page of the New York Times with this lede:
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.
Access at work. Why would any pajama-wearing blogger question that?