Good Leaks and Bad Leaks
James Taranto calls the firing of Mary McCarthy, who gave information on the CIA's secret prison program to a reporter, "the real CIA leak case." I don't understand how you can dismiss one leak and condemn another. There are not a lot of shades of gray in the law. Officials of the US government sign a document forbidding them to reveal classified information. When they do, they ought to suffer the consequences. It took the CIA 169 days to self-police, find out who leaked to Dana Priest, and fire her. After 1,014 days since the infamous Robert Novak column, nobody has been fired for revealing the name of Valerie Plame, despite equivocations and justifications up the yin-yang.
A leak is a leak is a leak. I don't totally agree with John Kerry here, but I understand his position:
Stephanopoulos: CIA official Mary McCarthy lost her job this week for disclosing classified information according to the CIA probably about a Washington Post story which reveal revealed the existence of secret prisons in Europe. A lot of different views. Sen. Pat Roberts praised action but some former CIA officers described Mary McCarthy as a sacrificial lamb acting in the finest American tradition by revealing human rights violations. What's your view?
Kerry: Well, I read that. I don't know whether she did it or not so it's hard to have a view on it. Here's my fundamental view of this, that you have somebody being fired from the CIA for allegedly telling the truth, and you have no one fired from the White House for revealing a CIA agent [in the Valerie Plame kerfuffle] in order to support a lie. That underscores what's really wrong in Washington, D.C., here.
Whistleblower protections exist in almost all fields. If you're witness to a violation in the law, the question of whether to report it or not violate your sworn secrecy is a difficult one. If you have to disclose information that would save lives, would you do so?
Well, maybe that's what Condi Rice may have been thinking if it comes to pass that she did in fact leak information to two members of the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC. Larry Franklin, a midlevel Pentagon official, has already been convicted for doing the same thing.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaked national defense information to a pro-Israel lobbyist in the same manner that landed a lower-level Pentagon official a 12-year prison sentence, the lobbyist's lawyer said Friday.
Prosecutors disputed the claim.
The allegations against Rice came as a federal judge granted a defense request to issue subpoenas sought by the defense for Rice and three other government officials in the trial of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. The two are former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are charged with receiving and disclosing national defense information.
Defense lawyers are asking a judge to dismiss the charges because, among other things, they believe it seeks to criminalize the type of backchannel exchanges between government officials, lobbyists and the press that are part and parcel of how Washington works.
I don't agree with the defense's charges for dismissal, but clearly we have a distinction made in this White House between good leaks and bad leaks. A "good leak" (like the President's "Presto!" declassifying of selective bits from the 2002 NIE that Scooter Libby could give to Judy Miller) is one that supports the White House's claims; a "bad leak" is one that does not. I think there are plenty of things that deserve official secrecy; I think there are just as many that deserve sunshine and transparency. But to suggest that there should be wide lattitude on leaks, with judgment made at the discretion of the executive branch, is not playing fair.
The other thing that nobody seems to be saying in this case is this: isn't the CIA admitting to the existence of secret prisons in Europe through these actions? I don't see a situation where you would fire someone for disclosing information that wasn't true. Taranto tries to argue otherwise, saying that McCarthy was part of the office of the General Inspector and had access to raw information that may later be discredited. But at the time of the leak, we were apparently years into this program. Is Taranto saying that nobody checked out the allegations for all that time? In truth, he has no idea. Certainly less of an idea than a CIA insider.
Speaking of which, this video from last night's 60 Minutes gives the story of Tyler Drumheller, who didn't leak information while in office, but is now coming forward to explain that the United States had direct, inside information that Saddam had no active weapons programs, and it was ignored. Not only did the White House ignore it, but the investigating committees after the fact apparently ignored Drumheller as well:
Did the Robb-Silbermann Commission not hear about what Drumheller had to say? What about the Roberts Committee?
I asked Drumheller just those questions when I spoke to him early this evening. He was quite clear. He was interviewed by the Robb-Silbermann Commission. Three times apparently.
Did he tell them everything he revealed on tonight's 60 Minutes segment. Absolutely.
Drumheller was also interviewed twice by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Roberts Committee) but apparently only after they released their summer 2004 report.
It's fair game to condemn the leaking of official secrets. But not to equivocate. And not to cover up. And not to pick and choose information when going to war. You can't just hang your hat on one part of the equation.
Can someone explain to me why it's assumed that Mary McCarthy leaked information for partisan reasons (because she gave money to the Kerry campaign) while her boss Porter Goss, who was a Republican congressman until a year and a half ago, is not assumed to have fired her for partisan reasons?
Remember, when Goss was head of the house intelligence committee, he had this to say about the alleged leak of covert operative Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak:
"Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation"