Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta has warned employees that anyone who leaks information about the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden might be prosecuted. They certainly should be. But what is consistently galling is how selective the CIA is when it prosecutes leaks.
Early in President George W. Bush’s second term, the American Prospect quoted former defense intelligence official W. Patrick Lang talking about how friends in the CIA had bragged about leaking information to embarrass the president. “Of course they were leaking,” The American Prospect reported. “They told me about it at the time. They thought it was funny. They’d say things like, ‘This last thing that came out, surely people will pay attention to that. They won’t re-elect this man.’”
There’s two possibilities here: Either Lang was exaggerating in order to depict himself as a confidante of a community he had left years before, or he was telling the truth. Assuming he told the truth, then the quote added a security insult to injury: In the run-up to the Iraq war and perhaps for a time during it, Lang had worked as a registered foreign agent for a pro-Syrian Lebanese businessman and been paid in the upper range of five-figure consulting fees. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, the CIA never bothered to investigate that leak. Certainly, the anti-Bush leaking did not hurt national security in the same way leaking details about the SEALs or the intelligence found in Bin Laden’s compound has, but it nevertheless soiled the CIA’s reputation, created a dangerous (and illegal) precedent of CIA involvement in American politics, and undercut trust in the organization which, to this day, it has failed to rebuild.