First there were the Bin Laden leaks. In the days after the al Qaida leader was killed by U.S. forces, a great deal of detailed information concerning that operation was released to the media. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear in public how he felt. Unfortunately, the Bin Laden leaks have not turned out to be isolated incidents. In early May, after the disruption of a terrorist plot in Yemen, reports surfaced concerning the reported role of British intelligence in the operation. This leak was especially serious in that it risked the trust caveat that underpins America’s most important (but increasingly sensitive) intelligence relationship. Over the last couple of weeks, two new stories have appeared in the press that concern highly sensitive U.S. government activities. Taken together, a worrying trend is becoming apparent.
The first new “leak” story concerned the president’s strategy for dealing with terrorists. The narrative was clear — President Obama’s counter-terrorism policies are clinical, focused and aggressive. While I disagree with this narrative (for many of the same reasons as Charles Krauthammer), reporters have the right to opine what they want. My problem is the evidence that the story utilized. In outlining the CIA’s drone program, the reporters were able to rely upon extensive information provided by senior administration officials. Specifically, much of this information related to the targeting process that the CIA uses to identify and engage perceived terrorist threats. While it might appear harmless to report seemingly technical details, these details are now in the public domain. As such, terrorist organizations will be in a far better position to develop counter-measures to avoid or mitigate the risk of being targeted by the CIA in the future. Intelligence officers working to protect this country need to have the support of their leadership, they don’t need to be ambushed by political agendas.
In a similar vein as the drone story, the second story was an examination of the president’s role in shaping a joint U.S.-Israeli cyber-attack on Iran’s nuclear program. The details in this story were stunning. Prior to the article’s publication, very little was known about the cyber-attack program. By the end of the article, we knew the U.S. role, the code name (“Olympic Games”), the participation of Israeli intelligence and, crucially, how the program was designed to operate. Once again, the narrative was clear. The president was portrayed as the intellectual warrior, ready to use aggressive measures to stop Iran’s nuclear development but doing so in a way that avoided the risk of war. Once again, national security was sidelined for campaign material.
Faced with these leaks, we should demand two things from the government. First, classified material must be restricted to those officials who need it. The president should make clear to his political appointees that the unauthorized disclosure of this material is absolutely unacceptable. There must not be a divided approach where government workers are punished for leaks, while appointees feel free to disclose restricted information as they please. Second, where leaks do take place, the Justice Department must conduct investigations to identify those responsible and pursue punishment against them. These two steps would bring some rational purpose back to the way in which intelligence material is handled in Washington.
In the space of just over a week, Obama administration officials have leaked significant elements of two critical national security endeavors. In disclosing this information, the officials responsible have asserted Obama’s re-election in precedence to the demands of national security. This is a disgrace that must not be allowed to continue.
Tom Rogan is an American blogger and writer currently studying in London, England. He holds a BA in War Studies from King’s College London and an MSc in Middle East Politics from SOAS, London. His blog can be found at TomRoganThinks.com.