There’s nothing new about national security leaks. Such leaks have occurred in every administration. But the leaks of the Obama administration are greater in magnitude and sensitivity than those of most previous administrations. Some of the more outrageous ones: Stuxnet, the cyber-attack against Iran; the Obama kill list of terrorists; the double-agent in Yemen; and all the information about the bin Laden raid. Topping off all these is the New York Times bestseller No Easy Day, a pseudonymous account of the raid written by an active Navy SEAL, who published the book without obtaining prior permission from the Department of Defense.
American Thinker interviewed former national security and intelligence officials, Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI), and Scott Taylor, a former SEAL, on the recent plague of leaks.
No Easy Day is the perhaps most notable reflection of the Obama administration’s disclosure culture. Published under the name “Mark Owen,” the book deals with the Abbotabad raid from the point of view of an actual participant. Should “Owen” have written it without permission? Probably not. Was there any classified information given out? Hard to tell. Would he have written it if the information about the raid had not already been made public? The answer to that may well be found in what the author wrote in the book itself: “The raid was being reported like a bad action movie[.] … I struggled to wrap my mind around it. To see these images on prime-time television was hard for me to deal with[.] … The more I saw coverage of the raid, the more I wanted to set the record straight.”
Such distorted reportage occurs as a direct result of officials giving information to obtain favorable press accounts at the expense of America’s national security. For example, President Obama on 60 Minutes announced, “They [the SEALs] had the presence of mind to still gather up a whole bunch of bin Laden’s material, which will be a treasure trove of information that could serve us very well in the weeks and months to come. But we anticipate that it can give us leads to other terrorists that we’ve been looking for a long time, other high value targets. But [it] also can give us a better sense of existing plots that might have been there, how they operated and their methods of communicating.” With these remarks, the president gave al-Qaeda terrorists full warning that their networks, contacts, cover, and techniques were completely blown. And these were not the only comments about the bin Laden raid; counter-terrorism czar John Brennan, Vice President Joe Biden, and many others released critical information through interviews with an eager media.
The key to stopping these leaks must come from the top — President Obama himself. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden noted, “Administrations sometimes talk too much. Just think of the famous Gates quote telling everyone to shut up. Everyone will take the lead from President Obama. He should be the one to set the tone and boundaries for what can be talked about. He needs to send a very clear and strong statement that this will not be tolerated.”
A former Bush national security advisor told American Thinker, “I have to say some of these leaks look like official leaks to me. In other words, it’s not the practice of journalists to quote senior administration officials when it’s not them. When you have folks like [California senator] Dianne Feinstein concerned and saying the leaks may be coming out of the White House, we all should be concerned. I have to say when I was reading these stories, I was stunned at some of the details that were there. Those details were the crown jewels of the national security establishment. You have to be pretty naïve to think al-Qaeda and our enemies don’t read. When these operational details appear in the newspaper, it is quite devastating.”
What is the political purpose of these leaks? According to those interviewed, the information is leaked in hopes of showing that the president is not weak on defense and is a master of foreign policy. Yet a look at the foreign policy record of this administration reveals an entire row of Clint Eastwood’s empty chairs: no response to the Iranian Green Revolution, no “red line” regarding Iran’s nuclear program, no punishment for those who kidnapped Americans in Egypt, brutally murdered the American Ambassador to Libya, and stormed American embassies throughout the Islamic world, just to name a few.
Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, feels that the leaks are coming from people with access to the Situation Room along with high-level security clearance. He minces no words: “People have come to the belief that if they want to talk about it and they determine it’s not bad for everyone, they get to do it. The security clearance is not anyone’s. They are granted it on behalf of the American people. They are the temporary keeper of it. It belongs to the American people, and what they want is for people to keep their mouths shut. This administration needs to fully cooperate with the appointed prosecutors and give them all the records to find out about the leaks. Yet it is my understanding that just a limited amount has happened so far.”
Another former Navy SEAL, Scott Taylor, along with other former officials, has released a video titled “Dishonorable Disclosures” (opsecteam.org). Taylor and Fred Rustmann, Jr., a former CIA operative, told American Thinker that the video was made to stop the leaks and to inform the American people what was occurring. Rustmann wants this administration to shut up and dismisses the argument that he is not acting out of political motivations: “I am an American first and a Republican second.”
Another participant in the video was Lisa Ruth, a former CIA official and a supporter of President Obama, who regards the response of her colleagues as “disingenuous. I have not seen any changes made within this government, that they recognize secrets need to be kept secret. I am afraid we are starting to set a precedent. It becomes easier to leak information when the last guy did it. My concern is they don’t have any interest in changing it, which means that it is becoming acceptable to use classified information in this way. It needs to stop.”
How does former SEAL Scott Taylor reconcile the message from his video with No Easy Day? “I consider him a hero. However, the operational security laws apply to everyone. Leadership starts at the top. They talk about prosecuting this guy with lightning speed but do nothing about the root cause. The question for Americans to ask: how can this administration come down so forcefully with this author when they can’t even police themselves and have allowed Hollywood to view sensitive information, specifically Kathryn Bigelow, who had unprecedented access to classified information?”
Are there any consequences to these leaks? Congressman Rogers sees such consequences already occurring. “I deal with a lot of the foreign intelligence services, and people who have cooperated with the U.S. voluntarily have said ‘no more.'” Former director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service and writer of the book Hard Measures Jose Rodriguez, Jr. explained to American Thinker that our enemies are able to gain a better appreciation for and understanding of America’s capabilities and targets and thus are able to defend themselves against “our own operations. They are able to see whom we are working with and how we approach an operation, which is pretty bad.”
The problem with those leaking, according to Rodriguez, is that the leakers have their own agenda and have no idea how the leaks have affected the intelligence community. “They just don’t understand the repercussions. They are totally blind to them. For example, when I was in the agency, Dana Priest, a Washington Post journalist, wrote articles about the black sites [secret foreign-based CIA installations]. I told her she is putting the countries where we have these sites at risk and that our relationship with these countries will be affected. She could not grasp how that could be. In other leaks, sources and methods become affected. In the old days, before a story was printed, they questioned whether it would have an impact on our national security. Now, people will leak, and newspapers will print no matter what.” He went on to say that he feels vindicated about his controversial destruction of tapes of terrorist interrogations that were sought by both media and politicians. Seeing what is going on today, he is sure that those tapes would have been leaked along with the names and identities of CIA personnel involved, endangering both them and their families.
What this administration has to understand is that such leaks compromise the safety of American forces and that covert operations should remain secret. Jose Rodriguez, Jr. said it best: “People like myself are outraged that this administration seems to forget about such things as national security.”