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June 13, 2013

"But Leaking Is OK When *We* Do It!"

Read the whole thing:

In 2010, NBC News reporter Michael Isikoff detailed similar secrecy machinations by the Obama administration, which leaked to Bob Woodward “a wealth of eye-popping details from a highly classified briefing” to President-elect Barack Obama two days after the November 2008 election. Among the disclosures to appear in Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars” were, Isikoff wrote, “the code names of previously unknown NSA programs, the existence of a clandestine paramilitary army run by the CIA in Afghanistan, and details of a secret Chinese cyberpenetration of Obama and John McCain campaign computers.”

The secrets shared with Woodward were so delicate Obama transition chief John Podesta was barred from attendance at the briefing, which was conducted inside a windowless, secure room known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or “SCIF.”

Isikoff asked, quite logically, how the Obama administration could pursue a double standard in which it prosecuted mid-level bureaucrats and military officers for their leaks to the press but allowed administration officials to dispense bigger secrets to Woodward. The best answer Isikoff could find came from John Rizzo, a former CIA general counsel, who surmised that prosecuting leaks to Woodward would be damn-near impossible to prosecute if the president or the CIA director authorized them.

The political uses of official leaks never goes unnoticed by the opposing party. In 2012, as the presidential campaigns gathered speed, after the New York Times published stories about classified programs, including the “kill list,” the drone program, details about the Osama bin Laden raid, and Stuxnet, all considered successes by the administration. The reports infuriated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who essentially accused the Obama White House of leaking these top secrets for political gain.

“This is not a game. This is far more important than mere politics. Laws have apparently been broken,” McCain cried. To the best of my knowledge, no investigation of these alleged leaks to the press have been ordered or are active, and I have yet to hear Messrs. Brooks, Simon and Cohen describe these leakers of those details as self-indulgent, losers or narcissists. [Addendum, 9:24 p.m.: There is a Stuxnet investigation.]

Another variety of the political leak is the counter-leak or convenient declassification, designed to neutralize or stigmatize an unauthorized leaker. The National Journal’s Ron Fournier, a former Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press, explicitly charges the Obama administration with dispensing intelligence about the bin Laden raid to the press to “promote the president’s reelection bid.” He claims that virtually every unauthorized leak ends up being matched by the release of classified information or “authorized” leak. Indeed, immediately following Snowden’s NSA leaks, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, is said to have claimed NSA spying helped defeat a planned attack on the New York City subway system, although that claim is disputed.

Sometimes the counter-leak is more revealing than the leak it was intended to bury. In 2012, then-national security adviser John Brennan went a tad too far counter-leaking in his attempt to nullify an Associated Press report about the foiled underwear bomber plot. In a conference call with TV news pundits, Brennan offered that the plot could never succeed because the United States had “inside control” of it, which helped expose a double-agent working for Western intelligence. Instead of being prosecuted for leaking sensitive, classified intelligence, Brennan was promoted to director of the CIA; that’s the privilege of the policy leak.

We're not enamored of the argument that, because some lawbreakers escape prosecution, all lawbreaking should go unpunished. Still, we'd sure like to see some of the white hot outrage generated by the self-described "outing" of Valerie Plame applied to Obama administration officials who endanger the lives of agents and double agents still in the field.

Guess that level of intellectual consistency is too much to hope for in a supposedly impartial press.

Posted by Cassandra at June 13, 2013 07:56 AM

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While I'm sympathetic to the notion that official leakers are getting off light, the plain fact is that the ultimate declassification authority is POTUS. McCain & SecDef were right to be outraged than Obummer has chosen to inappropriately leak very sensitive material about sources and methods (and in the process delivering an MD ally in Pakistan to a long awful jail term), but the only proper relief is political.

There will be a few on this blog that remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which JFK released very sensitive 'overhead' photographs of Cuba to prove that the Soviets were indeed delivering missiles. I think that was too much detail, but POTUS gets to make that call.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at June 13, 2013 08:51 PM

POTUS technically can declassify whatever he likes. He is THE declassification authority.

Posted by: MikeD at June 14, 2013 09:36 AM