Defense on Edge
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|Daniel Halper||July 29th 2012|
Intimate details of the SEAL team raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan have been consumed by millions of Americans watching cable television and reading newspapers, and, soon enough, it will be seen in Hollywood films. Folks around the world now know, without a doubt, that Americans coupled with Israelis have been waging silent cyber warfare against the Iranians, infecting Iranian computers with crippling viruses that have, by some estimates, slightly set back the mullahs' march toward achieving nuclear capability.
And readers of the New York Times now know that President Barack Obama keeps close tabs on the terrorist "kill list," even deciding which terrorist will next be targeted by the fine men and women of America's armed services. That sensitive information has been passed along from sources in the know to members of the media is without dispute a fact -- it is perhaps the least disputed fact of the questions currently being considered regarding the leaks.
Instead, the main mystery is, who done it?
If one were to believe the recent remarks of Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the White House is responsible for at least some of the national security leaks. "I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from its ranks," the senator said in Washington, D.C. earlier this week. (A day later, however, after Feinstein's remarks were seized by election-minded Republicans, the senator with the highest level of knowledge of current U.S. intelligence operations walked back her assertion, saying, "I shouldn't have speculated beyond that, because the fact of the matter is, I don't know the source of the leaks.") But, suspicions aside, although there might only be a half-dozen folks in the world who actually know the source (or sources) of the leaks, there are presumably others who can provide useful information that might lead investigators to the source of the leaks.
There is also, one can safely presume, a paper trail or some other electronic record (e-mails, phone records, and so on). So, it is most likely possible to find the perpetrators. The leaks themselves have the potential to be damaging to national security. Tactics and procedures used by Navy SEALs and other government elements may have been compromised. Cyber warfare against the Iranians might be better anticipated by our foes than the last effort - and, besides, admitting a role in sabotaging the Iranians might invite future cyber attacks against this nation and our allies. And knowledge of the president's "kill list" could undermine America's ability to deal with terrorists.
These leaks should not happen. In fact, they are illegal. Releasing classified information through improper and unauthorized channels is a crime.
But they have happened. And, unless something is done, the perpetrators are likely to strike again. Leakers, after all, have their own goals for passing around government secrets -- sometimes to affect policy with which they disagree, other times to achieve a goal within a leaker's own government agency. To solve the mystery of who is responsible for these leaks, the president has appointed two U.S. attorneys to conduct an investigation through the Department of Justice. "The unauthorized disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated," Attorney General Eric Holder said when announcing that an investigation would take place. "The Justice Department takes seriously cases in which government employees and contractors entrusted with classified information are suspected of willfully disclosing such classified information to those not entitled to it, and we will do so in these cases as well."
It is a good first step. But the effort lacks the necessary independence to lend it much-needed credibility. The investigative team is being run out of the President's own Justice Department. It should be separate and independent.
President Obama has maintained that his White House is not responsible. "The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive," President Obama said at a June press conference, in response to a question about whether his staff was responsible. "It's wrong. ... We're dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people, our families, or our military personnel, or our allies. And so we don't play with that. And it is a source of consistent frustration, not just for my administration but also for previous administrations, when this stuff happens. And we will continue to let everybody know in government, or after they leave government, that they have certain obligations that they should carry out."
Let's hope the president is right. But his assertion must be verified - not for the sake of winning political points, but for making sure that these sorts of disclosures of classified information do not happen in the future. To that end, President Obama's investigative team and his denunciations of the practice are not enough. If the president is truly serious, then on this particular investigation he will endorse the creation of an independent special counsel who has the authority to follow the trails - paper and electronic - of plausible suspects. That is how we will figure out who done it. And, most importantly, that is how to (hopefully) make sure it does not happen again.
Daniel Halper, JINSA Visiting Fellow, is deputy online editor at The Weekly Standard.