Monday, May 27, 2013

Intelligence Leaks

All the talk about the administration's investigation of intelligence leaks reminds me of one of my experiences about 20 years ago while I was in the Foreign Service.  I was the chairman of a committee looking at violations of certain US export control laws. Occasionally we would get intelligence that somebody was trying to violate the laws, and we would debate whether we could take action on the intelligence, and if so, what kind of action.  The intelligence agencies were often resistant to taking action on intelligence, because they worried that it might reveal "sources and methods."  Occasionally I opposed taking action because I did not think the intelligence was good or reliable enough.  In that case, I would usually ask the intelligence agency involved to try and get better or confirming information.  Several times when I did not want to act on questionable intelligence, I got calls at home at 10:00 or 11:00 o'clock at night from Michael Gordon (I think) who had been told the intelligence information and wanted me to confirm it.  I would not confirm it; I fell back on the old saw, "neither confirm nor deny."  I don't even remember if the articles ran.  However, I was amazed that the leaks must have come from the conservative side of the people working on the issue, probably from the CIA or the Pentagon.  And the leaks were of very highly classified information.  Somehow, I expected that if anyone were going to violate the law in order to "do good," it would be some crazy liberal, not some conservative, who claimed to be super patriotic.  I never knew who did it, but I was appalled at the cavalier treatment of classified information.

I didn't have any personal connection to the Iraq war, but I was similarly surprised that Judith Miller wrote a number of New York Times articles on the war, particularly regarding weapons of mass destruction, that were false and planted by conservatives linked to Dick Cheney and company.  It's as if conservatives have no regard for the law or the truth.  I'm sure many do, but the moral standards on the right have in the past seemed to lower than on the left.  I will be interesting if we ever find out where the new set of leaks came from.

Despite my experience, I am not in favor of the way the Obama administration is going about its investigation of the recent leaks regarding Yemen and North Korea.  I don't think Obama should be pursuing journalists; he should limit his investigation to government employees.  If the FBI is too inept to figure out who is doing the leaking without looking a journalists' phone records, then they should give up.  The journalists are not violating the law (in most cases); the leakers are.  Let the journalists do their job, and just go after the government employees.

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