Leaking Intel for Fun and Political Advantage
By: Gregory Gethard
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Congressional Democrats only believe in revealing classified information if it hurts our country.
Once again history is repeating itself. Two incidents – one involving Joe Biden and one involving the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – prove Democrats are still in the habit of releasing classified intelligence to discredit the CIA or the Republicans and, at the same time, stonewalling on releasing non-threatening information that would cast either in a positive light. It’s politicking of the worst kind; manipulating the nation’s most important secrets for a cheap boost in the polls.
In March, Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the Gridiron Club’s annual dinner, an event that joins Washington’s top politicians and media members for a lighthearted night of fun and entertainment. But at this year’s event, Biden divulged the precise location where Dick Cheney hid during and after the 9/11 attacks. According to Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift:
Joe Biden reveals the bunker-like room is at the Naval Observatory in Washington, where Cheney lived for eight years and which is now home to Biden. The veep related the story to his head-table dinner mates when he filled in for President Obama at the Gridiron Club earlier this year. He said the young naval officer giving him a tour of the residence showed him the hideaway, which is behind a massive steel door secured by an elaborate lock with a narrow connecting hallway lined with shelves filled with communications equipment. The officer explained that when Cheney was in lock down, this was where his most trusted aides were stationed, an image that Biden conveyed in a way that suggested we shouldn’t be surprised that the policies that emerged were off the wall. (Emphasis added.)
The vice president’s remarks are being cast by the mainstream media as another case of Biden’s infamous loose lips, and his office denies he was describing the bunker. But his words are far from innocuous; al-Qaeda could have better planned 9/11 with this information, and is now better prepared for the next attack. Biden’s statements not only revealed classified information that makes Americans, in this case his own family members, less safe, but they were spoken casually in order to discredit Dick Cheney and the Bush administration’s aggressive counterterrorism policies. Yet the Left has treated it as a non-event.
On the other hand, a Congressional Democrat has accused an opponents of threatening national security for seeking the truth about Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker has made an adamant if unconvincing case that the CIA never informed her about instances of waterboarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Media reports indicate she knew in 2002 about the CIA’s detainee interrogation tactics, but Pelosi has insisted she did not know about waterboarding until much later. She has since accused the CIA of misleading Congress “all the time.” In an effort to determine what meetings related to waterboarding Pelosi attended, Republican ranking member Pete Hoekstra managed to obtain a classified CIA document that detailed the many briefings informing Pelosi about the practice of waterboarding. Since Nancy Pelosi continued her denials, Hoekstra called for the release of all related CIA documents that would reveal what Pelosi knew and when she knew it. This drew the wrath of Democrat Silvestre Reyes, whom Pelosi appointed chairman of the House Intelligence Committee:
It’s irresponsible what Republicans are doing, particularly in Mr. Hoekstra’s case. When you’re asking to declassify material that’s been classified for a very good reason — that’s the height of irresponsibility. (Emphasis added.)
It’s hard to imagine that any major state secrets will be unearthed due to Hoekstra’s information; it is easy to see why Reyes would want to prevent Hoekstra’s efforts.
These two events might be humorous were they not so typical. The Left has an abysmal record on revealing classified information or cheering on those who do.
A glaring example of this came in 2006, when CIA officer Mary McCarthy was fired for allegedly leaking information about CIA “black sites” to Dana Priest, a reporter for The Washington Post. Priest’s article identified several nations which allowed the CIA to hold al-Qaeda operatives within their borders, including “several democracies in Eastern Europe” and Jordan. Exactly one week later, al-Qaeda attacked Jordan. Although it is illegal for CIA officers to leak this information and the leak destroyed the program, the Left used this information to marginalize the Bush administration.
Just months after his presidential defeat, Senator John Kerry leapt at the chance to minimize, or justify, the leak on ABC’s This Week:
A CIA agent has the obligation to uphold the law and clearly leaking is against the law, and nobody should leak. I don’t like leaking. But if you’re leaking to tell the truth, Americans are going to look at that, at least mitigate or think about what are the consequences that you, you know, put on that person. Obviously they’re not going to keep their job, but there are other larger issues here. You know, classification in Washington is a tool that is used to hide the truth from the American people. (Emphasis added.)
Coincidentally, McCarthy donated $2,000 to Kerry’s presidential campaign.
Unfortunately, this decision of a leftist to justify leaking classified anti-terror programs to the media is hardly an isolated event.
In December 2005, New York Times journalist James Risen wrote an article entitled “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” which detailed the Bush administration’s policy of wiretapping foreign jihadists speaking in another country without first obtaining a warrant. Risen’s article was largely helped by Thomas Tamm, a Department of Justice official who took it upon himself to release this information to the media.
Rep. James Moran, D-VA, instantly hailed both the Risen and Priest stories for “breaking through the administration’s secrecy,” justifying crippling this program on the grounds that the Bush administration was “doing everything possible to impose censorship.”
It did not take long for Democrats to vehemently protest this policy, which became a rallying cry in both the 2006 Congressional campaign as well as the 2008 election. Senator Russ Feingold, D-WI, said on the floor of the U.S. Senate:
This program is breaking the law, and this president is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.
However, Bush administration officials were adamant about the absolute need for this program to exist. This Thursday, former Vice President Dick Cheney told the AEI:
Our government prevented attacks and saved lives through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which let us intercept calls and track contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and persons inside the United States. The program was top secret, and for good reason, until the editors of the New York Times got it and put it on the front page. After 9/11, the Times had spent months publishing the pictures and the stories of everyone killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11. Now here was that same newspaper publishing secrets in a way that could only help al-Qaeda. It impressed the Pulitzer committee, but it damn sure didn’t serve the interests of our country, or the safety of our people.
Feingold has yet to make a comment on President Barack Obama’s decision to continue the warrantless wiretapping policy.
Yet the leaks, and their enthusiastic reception by the Left, continued. On September 24, 2006, the New York Times published an article citing information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which discussed the spread of Islamic radicalism in the wake of the Iraq War. The leak came in the heat of the midterm Congressional campaigns. However, in October, a never-identified Democratic aide on the intelligence committee was banned from access to classified information. According to the New York Times, the aide asked for a copy of the NIE two days before details of the report ended up in the newspaper, leading to suspicions he was the leak.
Also in 2006, the New York Times published another article which used classified material to detail the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, a secretive Bush-era program tracking the financial transactions of suspected al-Qaeda suspects.
However, once this information was revealed in the press, it gave al-Qaeda an opportunity to readjust its financial strategies in funding their efforts. And it also gave Democrats yet another opportunity to paint the Bush administration as working above the law. Said Congressman Edward Markey:
I am very concerned that the Bush administration may be once again violating the constitutional rights of innocent Americans as part of another secret program created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
As a result of these intelligence leaks, House Republicans passed a measure condemning such leaks and asking for “the cooperation of all news media organizations in protecting the lives of Americans.” It passed on a near party-line vote, with more than 100 Democrats voting no.
On the other hand, the Left opposes the release of classified information under certain circumstances, specifically when it may be politically detrimental or when it might benefit their political opponents. Democrats were apoplectic when the Bush administration released some of the National Intelligence Estimate in 2006, which detailed the intelligence the administration saw before launching the invasion of Iraq. The book Party of Defeat by David Horowitz and Ben Johnson quotes future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who said with no trace of irony:
I served for years on the House intelligence committee, and I know intelligence must never be classified or declassified for political purposes. One of the constants in the Bush administration’s miserable record on Iraq has been the manipulation of intelligence precisely for political purposes.
Now Madam Speaker and her allies are at it again, accusing Rep. Hoekstra of undermining national security by investigating their lies.
This is yet another example of the hypocritical cynicism of the Left, which has a history of wanting it both ways with its manipulation of intelligence. In their eyes, politics come before pragmatism and sound bytes come before safety. Protecting the image of the party is more important than protecting the safety of the people the party is supposed to represent.
Gregory Gethard is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.