Leaks, What Leaks?

Victor Davis Hanson is in a justifiable state of stratospheric dudgeon about the leaks that clearly are meant to portray Barack Obama as a steely, anti-terrorist warrior:

Recent leaks — the cyberwar secrets, the drone methodology, the double agent in Yemen, the details of the bin Laden mission, and the trove of information that accrued from it — juxtaposed with polls that have consistently shown uncertainty about Obama’s natural-security fides (cf. the serial boasting of Joe Biden that Obama’s decision is the most significant accomplishment in recent military history) are a time bomb.

Unlike the terrible Fast and Furious scandal, the Secret Service fiasco, the Solyndra boondoggle and solar con, or the GSA mess, we are talking about endangerment to the collective security of the entire United States — and not just due to laxity or incompetence but apparently due to calibrated political advantage. These targeted leaks seem to be part of a larger culture of narrowly defined and opportunistic access and political imaging. For is there not something terribly wrong when, to take just two examples, a David Sanger is apparently given access to such top-secret information, or when a David Ignatius, chest-thumps “exclusive,” as he offers his own analyses of once classified al-Qaeda documents seized from the bin Laden compound, for which he alone apparently was selected as gatekeeper to examine and analyze what he thinks is and is not important for Americans to know?…

This scandal will not go away, because it is so reckless that it will go well beyond Republican efforts to score political points, as it equally enrages congressional Democrats, Defense Department non-political officials, the CIA, and the intelligence community at large, whose careers and lives are jeopardized by such serial leaking. There is a toxic relationship now between high members of this administration, and favored marquee reporters such as those at the New York Times and Washington Post, who have crafted a hand-washes-hand relationship that, whether inadvertent or not, has put all our safety at risk. Obama himself seems not so much angry that his own are leaking to form favorable narratives, but angry that anyone would dare suggest to him that they are. That, too, is an untenable position and will change.

This will not stand, and until those who are doing these terrible things to the country are fired, the story will not go away. [“Court Journalism and the National Interest,” The Corner at National Review Online, June 12, 2012]

Update (06/13/12): Today, Hanson writes:

Securitygate has Nixonian trademarks all over it and is far more injurious to the republic than all the previous Obama administration–era scandals combined. Attorney General Holder simply cannot select an attorney to investigate key players in the administration who was both a recent appointee of Obama and a campaign contributor to and political supporter of him….

That the result was lives endangered and national policy imperiled makes an outside investigator essential. Even more chilling is that unlike prior leaking during past administrations when the media was at odds with the executive branch, in this case the administration apparently welcomed the leaks. The reporters involved were assumed to operate, not as self-proclaimed auditors trying to enhance their careers purportedly by keeping government honest, but rather more as court toadies determined to make their sources look good as payback for “exclusives.”…

At some point, watch the journalistic community: Typically they rally around the leaky reporter and law breaker as some sort of wounded fawn punished for trying to speak truth to power, but now what? Are they to close ranks with Ministry of Truth careerists who may well have been used as stooges of a government that serially broke the law for partisan advantage? [“Securitygate Is Not Going Away,” The Corner at National Review Online, June 13, 2012]

Here are links to some of the leak-ticles that prompted Hanson’s [continued] sub-orbital flight:

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” Jo Becker and Scott Shane, The New York Times, May 29, 2012

Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” David Sanger, The New York Times, June 1, 2012

Stuxnet was work of U.S. and Israeli experts, officials say,” Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warwick, The Washington Post, June 1, 2012

And here links to some relevant commentary (in addition to Hanson’s):

Covert Wars, Waged Virally: ‘Confront and Conceal’,” a review by Thomas Ricks of David Sanger’s book about cyberwar against Iran and various anti-terrorist action, The New York Times, June 5, 2012

For U.S. Inquiries on Leaks, a Difficult Road to Prosecution,” Charlie Savage, The New York Times, June 9, 2012

Obama loses veneer of deniabilty with intelligence leaks,” Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, June 11, 2012

Ricks, an erstwhile Pentagon correspondent of some note, seems unfazed by leakage — an indifference that must have served him well in the day. He notes, without irony, that

Mr. Sanger clearly has enjoyed great access to senior White House officials, most notably to Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser.

Well, the moral code of Washington is encapsulated in “go along to get along” and “give something to get something.” (A former colleague — now a late and (by me) unlamented one — of no firm convictions, who fancied himself politically astute, was fond of spouting those feeble justifications of his sleaziness.) Thus Ricks’s next sentences should come as no shock to anyone but a pre-schooler:

Mr. Donilon, in effect, is the hero of the book, as well as the commenter of record on events. He leads the team that goes to Israel and spends “five hours wading through the intelligence in the basement of the prime minister’s residence.” He is shown studying the nettlesome problems of foreign relations, working closely with the president, and fending off the villains of this story— which in Mr. Sanger’s account tend to be the government of Pakistan and, surprisingly, the generals of the American military.

Yes, there is righteous outrage in Washington. Savage’s piece opens with this:

Anger over leaks of government secrets and calls for prosecution have once again engulfed the nation’s capital. Under bipartisan pressure for a crackdown, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday announced the appointment of two top prosecutors to lead investigations into recent disclosures.


the prospects for those efforts are murky. Historically, the vast majority of leak-related investigations have turned up nothing conclusive, and several of the nine that have been prosecuted — six already under the Obama administration, and just three more under all previous presidents — collapsed.

“These cases are very difficult to pursue,” said Kenneth L. Wainstein, a former assistant attorney general for national security under President George W. Bush.


Many people are surprised to learn that there is no law against disclosing classified information, in and of itself. The classification system was established for the executive branch by presidential order, not by statute, to control access to information and how it must be handled. While officials who break those rules may be admonished or fired, the system covers far more information than it is a crime to leak.

Instead, leak prosecutions rely on a 1917 espionage statute whose principal provision makes it a crime to disclose, to persons not authorized to receive it, national defense information with knowledge that its dissemination could harm the United States or help a foreign power.

The statute should be changed to make it a criminal act to knowingly disclose classified information to anyone not authorized to receive it. But that would not suit the leak-happy mentality of Washington. Nor would it suit the primary beneficiaries of that mentality, namely, the major media outlets. So, the leaks will continue apace and every once in a while they will be condemned — even by the leakers, if not the leakees.

Cue Lefty Cohen, who makes sport of the whole thing:

Pity the poor Obama administration leakers. They impart their much-cherished secrets to make their man look good and then, at the first chirp of criticism, are ordered to confess their (possible) crimes by the very same president they were seeking to please. In this, they are a bit like the male praying mantis. He does as asked, and then the female bites his head off.

What is remarkable about the recent leaks is the coincidence — it can only be that — that they all made the president look good, heroic, decisive, strong and even a touch cruel; born, as the birthers long suspected, not in Hawaii — but possibly on the lost planet Krypton. The leak that displayed all these Obamian attributes was the one that said the president personally approves the assassinations of terrorists abroad. He gives his okay, and the bad guys are dispatched via missiles from drones.

Cohen is not worried so much about leaks, which are potage to the Post, as he is about those terrorists who refuse to surrender to American justice and so are dispatched at long distance:

The leak that troubles me concerns the killing of suspected or actual terrorists. The triumphalist tone of the leaks — the Tarzan-like chest-beating of various leakers — not only is in poor taste but also shreds a long-standing convention that, in these matters, the president has deniability. The president of the United States is not the Godfather.

But he is commander-in-chief, and if he has performed any constitutionally legitimate act during his presidency, it has been to advance the common defense by terrorizing terrorists.

But that does not excuse the acts of leakage, which are morally if not legally criminal. They have been committed on behalf of Barack Obama, and — I cannot doubt — at his behest.