Larry C. Johnson
The Bush Administration’s new offensive against leakers just reminds us that when the President’s political standing is at stake all is fair if the purpose is to protect the Pres…., er I mean the nation. Too bad George Bush did not express the same outrage when Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and others in his employ, told eager journalists that Joe Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative. I guess divulging secrets is okay if the White House needs to discredit Joe Wilson and his claim (subsequently proved true) that the President had misled the nation during his January 2004 State of the Union address. Plus, it offers the added benefit of warning the rest of the intelligence community–shut up or else. You can’t have whistle blowers coming out that would tarnish the President’s image as a tough guy waging war on the terrorists.
I also seem to recall that the Bush White House used leaks in the midst of the 2004 Presidential campagin to burnish the President’s image and keep Americans on edge. Remember the name of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan? His name was leaked to the New York Times in August of 2004 while Khan was still cooperating with Pakistani, CIA, and British authorities as part of a sting operation against Osama bin Laden’s network. On the eve of the Republican convention, unnamed senior NSC officials told New York Times reporters that Mr Khan was being used to send e-mails to al-Qaida members as part of a coordinated effort to identify and dismantle terrorist networks. Just because this leak destroyed the secret program’s effectiveness was no big deal because he helped remind Americans that George Bush was the only one who could keep us safe.
So, what’s really behind the latest anti-leak crusade?
For those outside the Beltway it is essential to recognize there are two kinds of leaks–officially sanctioned and whistle blowers. The ones described in the previous paragraphs are the “officially sanctioned” variety. These are not unique to the Bush Administration or Republicans. Politicians through the years have shared classified information with journalists as part of a public relations effort to build support for a policy or attack critics.
Then there is the whistle blower variant. This is more important and, in my opinion, the most valuable. It exists to keep politicians honest and alert the public to serious policy disputes. The two most recent examples are the revelations that the United States was holding possible terrorists in secret prisons around the world and that George Bush was circumventing the law and approving illegal electronic surveillance inside the United States. While the Bush White House is certain that those responsible for these leaks are political partisans hell bent on damaging the President, it is really a sign that folks on the inside with a conscience finally decided to speak out.
I recall back in 1989 that the United States was engaged in a variety of “covert” activities in Panama as part of a campaign to provoke Manuel Noriega into a war. The wiley Panamanian dictator kept his powder dry and wouldn’t take the bait. More fascinating for me was to be told in hushed tones inside the Central American Brach of the DI about these secret operations and then to read the very next day a full description of those very secrets on the front pages of the Washington Post and New York Times. The secrets leaked because folks at State Department and the Department of Defense had qualms about the policy. When there is an internal disagreement over a particular policy, leaks happen.
What is truly shocking is that many in the media, both print and electronic, seem ignorant of the difference between official and whistle blower leaks. In fact, some seem eager to carry water for the White House and feed the myth that the whistle blower leaks are putting us in jeopardy. Not surprisingly these are the same “journalists” who sought to excuse the leak of Valerie Plame’s name as no big deal. Christmas is past and Hannukah is winding down. But I do have a gift request for 2006–can we have more journalists like Sy Hersh, Jim Risen, Jon Landay, Warren Strobel, and David Kaplan, who speak truth to power, and fewer Bob Woodwards, Chris Matthews, Tim Russerts, and Judy Millers, who value their invitations to the White House Christmas Party over challenging the status quo? That’s what I want.