These men are directly personally responsible for the reelection of George W. Bush.
"The whole confluence was pretty remarkable," Mr. Lichtblau told me. Although he strongly believed, and still does, that the story should have run when it was first ready — the fall of 2004 — he sees the historical context as a major reason that it did not. So does Bill Keller, then the executive editor, who — on the recommendation of the Washington bureau chief at the time, Philip Taubman — decided against running the original story. "Three years after 9/11, we, as a country, were still under the influence of that trauma, and we, as a newspaper, were not immune," Mr. Keller said. "It was not a kind of patriotic rapture. It was an acute sense that the world was a dangerous place." Michael V. Hayden, who was the director of the N.S.A. and later the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told me in an interview that he argued strenuously against publication, right up until the moment when The Times decided to go ahead. His rationale: "That this effort was designed to intercept threatening communication" and to prevent another terrorist attack. In the end, The Times published the story with a couple of guns held to its head: First, the knowledge that the information in the article was also contained in a book by Mr. Risen, "State of War," whose publication date was bearing down like a freight train. Second, at the end, the word of a possible injunction against publishing, Mr. Risen said, provided a final push: "It was like a lightning bolt." (Mr. Hayden said that would not have happened: "Prior restraint was never in the cards.")