Commentary Magazine


Topic: administration leaks

Admin OK with Leaking Israeli Secrets

We’ve heard a lot in the last few weeks from the Obama administration about their duty to protect the nation’s secrets. To that end, Attorney General Eric Holder has not only pursued an unprecedented wave of prosecutions of alleged leakers of classified information but also authorized spying on journalists that threatens the ability of the press to do its job. But apparently the administration isn’t that worried about the spilling of an ally’s secrets. As McClatchy reported earlier this week, a Defense Department website has published top-secret details about a new Israeli army base where the next generation of the Arrow missile defense system will be installed. And while the impact of the leaks prosecuted by Holder on U.S. national security is debatable, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt that the publication of the Israeli information could endanger that nation’s ability to defend the facility.

As McClatchy reports:

“If an enemy of Israel wanted to launch an attack against a facility, this would give him an easy how-to guide. This type of information is closely guarded and its release can jeopardize the entire facility,” said an Israeli military official who commented on the publication of the proposal but declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the facility. He declined to say whether plans for the facility have been altered as a result of the disclosure.

“This is more than worrying, it is shocking,” he said.

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We’ve heard a lot in the last few weeks from the Obama administration about their duty to protect the nation’s secrets. To that end, Attorney General Eric Holder has not only pursued an unprecedented wave of prosecutions of alleged leakers of classified information but also authorized spying on journalists that threatens the ability of the press to do its job. But apparently the administration isn’t that worried about the spilling of an ally’s secrets. As McClatchy reported earlier this week, a Defense Department website has published top-secret details about a new Israeli army base where the next generation of the Arrow missile defense system will be installed. And while the impact of the leaks prosecuted by Holder on U.S. national security is debatable, there doesn’t appear to be much doubt that the publication of the Israeli information could endanger that nation’s ability to defend the facility.

As McClatchy reports:

“If an enemy of Israel wanted to launch an attack against a facility, this would give him an easy how-to guide. This type of information is closely guarded and its release can jeopardize the entire facility,” said an Israeli military official who commented on the publication of the proposal but declined to be named because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the facility. He declined to say whether plans for the facility have been altered as a result of the disclosure.

“This is more than worrying, it is shocking,” he said.

Apparently, the leak was not so much the result of malice but bureaucratic inertia. The information on the Israeli base that will house the Arrow 3 system that the U.S. will help build contained specifications about every conceivable aspect of the place including the heating and cooling systems and the thickness of the walls. But according to the Pentagon, making this information public was just routine since they are required to publish details of construction projects in order to help contractors estimate costs for bids. But it seems that it occurred to no one in the Defense Department that spilling that much information could compromise Israel’s security.

The controversy illustrates the danger to Israel of its dependence on the United States. But the reason for their decision to involve the U.S. in construction of the new base says more about their fears about a nuclear Iran than it does about a desire to remain in thrall to the Americans.

Whereas the current version of Arrow is oriented toward stopping missile attacks on Israel from Gaza or Lebanon, the Arrow 3 is a system that is capable of intercepting attacks from as far as 1,500 miles away, i.e. Iran. With the Iranians moving closer to nuclear capability every day with no sign that diplomacy or sanctions will cause them to halt, the decision to fast-track construction of the Arrow 3 and the consequent heavy U.S. involvement in Israeli security is entirely understandable.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this story.

One is that the hypocrisy of the U.S. government about leaking knows no bounds. We already knew that leakers of the most sensitive national security secrets aren’t likely to be prosecuted if those revealing the information do so in order to puff the reputation of President Obama. The leaks of stories about the president’s involvement in cyber warfare against Iran and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to newspapers like the New York Times don’t seem to have attracted much attention from prosecutors. We now know the security establishment is also asleep at the switch when it comes to the revelation of classified information about Israel.

The second is that Israel is still not at the point where it can rely only on itself for national defense.

As much as many Israelis and their friends would like to think the country is wealthy enough to develop and pay for all of its defense projects, without aid from the United States those efforts would not be able to be expedited as much as they are now. There is a high price to be paid for this dependence both in terms of having to defer to American policy initiatives and also lack of control over all aspects of the endeavor. There will be those who point to the leak of the Arrow base information as proof that it is time for Israel to separate itself from the U.S. in this regard. But the need to provide a viable missile defense system against Iran can’t wait. Like it or not, Israel still needs its only major power ally. As much as the Arrow 3 leaks are troubling, the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel is still a necessity, not an option. 

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Why Did DOJ Appoint Two Prosecutors for Leak Investigation?

Why did the Department of Justice appoint two prosecutors to lead its leak investigations? That’s the question Sen. Jon Kyl asked Eric Holder during his testimony at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary hearing. Holder gave a hopelessly vague and evasive answer, but Kyl’s question is worth asking again, given what we know about the two U.S. Attorneys.

One of these prosecutors, Ronald Machen, is an Obama appointee who donated $4,350 to the Obama campaign, as the blog Fire Andrea Mitchell pointed out. The other is a holdover Bush appointee, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.

So one Bush appointee and one Obama donor should balance each other out, right? Actually, no — not necessarily. The DOJ has opened two separate leak investigations with different scopes, and the prosecutors could be asked to lead them separately.

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Why did the Department of Justice appoint two prosecutors to lead its leak investigations? That’s the question Sen. Jon Kyl asked Eric Holder during his testimony at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary hearing. Holder gave a hopelessly vague and evasive answer, but Kyl’s question is worth asking again, given what we know about the two U.S. Attorneys.

One of these prosecutors, Ronald Machen, is an Obama appointee who donated $4,350 to the Obama campaign, as the blog Fire Andrea Mitchell pointed out. The other is a holdover Bush appointee, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.

So one Bush appointee and one Obama donor should balance each other out, right? Actually, no — not necessarily. The DOJ has opened two separate leak investigations with different scopes, and the prosecutors could be asked to lead them separately.

Here is why this could pose a problem. So far, we have no official word on which leaks each of these probes will be looking into — remember, there have been multiple leaks recently, including the drone “Kill List,” the Flame cyberattack, and the al-Qaeda affiliate story. Will one prosecutor be investigating the Flame story, while another looks into the al-Qaeda Yemen disclosure? We don’t know, and Holder has refused to say.

But, based on a recent Wall Street Journal report, it appears that neither of the two DOJ investigations include the New York Times’s “Kill List” story — the most overtly political and pro-Obama article out of the bunch. Lawfare Blog’s Jack Goldstein draws this conclusion:

If the WSJ is right, it would appear that the investigations do not concern leaks about drone attacks and related matters that, like leaks about the Iranian cyber-operation and the AQAP infiltration, have been the subject of recent congressional complaint.  That would make the leak investigations relatively narrow, and would be relatively good news for the White House since, according to Daniel Klaidman’s book and other indications, some White House officials have participated in disclosure of some of the classified information related to drone attacks.

The Journal reports that one of the investigations is focused on the al-Qaeda Yemen affiliate story, and the other is on the Iranian cyberattack story.

It seems unlikely that the al-Qaeda informant leak was politically motivated, even if it was put out there by high-level administration officials. But the Times’s Iranian cyberattack story was a different beast altogether. From the headline to the Situation Room details, the leaks were clearly a) from top administration officials, and b) intended to make Obama look as good as possible.

In other words, the Iranian cyberattack investigation seems much, much more likely to uncover damaging revelations about the White House than the al-Qaeda informant probe. The question is, will both prosecutors be leading the Iranian cyberattack probe? And if not, which one will the DOJ put in charge of it — the Bush appointee or the Obama donor?

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GOP Ramps Up Calls for Leak Investigation

Yesterday, the White House continued to push back against allegations that it approved classified leaks to the media, but Republicans aren’t buying it. Rep. Peter King is the latest high-profile Republican to claim the White House authorized the leaks for political gain:

A top House Republican on Sunday rejected President Obama’s claim that recent security leaks did not come from the White House, accusing the president of using the leaks — which detailed the administration’s counterterror programs — to “build up his reputation” before November.

“He’s trying to be like George Patton or John Wayne,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News.  …

“This is the most shameful cascade of leaks I’ve ever heard or seen in government,” he said. “It’s clear from those stories this came right from the White House, came right from the National Security Council, came right from the Situation Room. … It has to lead to people very high up in the administration in his White House.”

King alleged that the leaks must have been “approved from the top,” and accused the president of grandstanding in an election year.

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Yesterday, the White House continued to push back against allegations that it approved classified leaks to the media, but Republicans aren’t buying it. Rep. Peter King is the latest high-profile Republican to claim the White House authorized the leaks for political gain:

A top House Republican on Sunday rejected President Obama’s claim that recent security leaks did not come from the White House, accusing the president of using the leaks — which detailed the administration’s counterterror programs — to “build up his reputation” before November.

“He’s trying to be like George Patton or John Wayne,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News.  …

“This is the most shameful cascade of leaks I’ve ever heard or seen in government,” he said. “It’s clear from those stories this came right from the White House, came right from the National Security Council, came right from the Situation Room. … It has to lead to people very high up in the administration in his White House.”

King alleged that the leaks must have been “approved from the top,” and accused the president of grandstanding in an election year.

The Justice Department has already launched an investigation into the leaks, which could obviously pose some conflicts of interest. In a column in the New York Daily News today, King called for a special counsel to be appointed to investigate:

That is why I called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate these life-threatening leaks.

Attorney General Eric Holder cannot seriously be trusted to pursue crimes that may implicate senior officials in the administration. On Friday, he announced that two U.S. attorneys were selected to lead an investigation into the leaks. It is vital that this investigation be thorough and independent of Justice Department control.

While the administration has rightfully initiated an unprecedented number of leak prosecutions, these are all centered around nonpolitical, career employees who have, for the most part, leaked information having no direct bearing on the president.

The intelligence, law enforcement and military personnel who defend us, and the human sources who take great risks on our behalf, on the assurance that we will do our best to protect their security and identities, deserve no less.

As King notes, the Obama administration has been very serious in cracking down on leaks — but so far, it’s been non-political, mid-level government or military officials who have been prosecuted. In contrast, the latest leakers have clearly been high-level administration officials who have been privy to classified security briefings. And there has been a stark contrast between how the White House has handled these cases. With the latest leaks, the administration only initiated the DOJ investigation after an outcry from lawmakers.

It’s too early to say whether there will be enough pressure on the White House to force a special counsel investigation. In addition to Rep. King, Sen. John McCain, Sen. John Cornyn, and Sen. Roy Blunt have also called for one. And while some Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein have stopped short of calling for it, they haven’t ruled it out.

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Obama “Offended” by WH Leak Allegations

President Obama is crying foul against allegations that White House officials leaked classified information to the media for political gain, insisting that the White House would never “purposely” pass on classified secrets. The Hill reports:

“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said. “It’s wrong, and people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office, and the people around me approach this office.” …

Obama said the White House has “mechanisms in place” to “root out” people who leak national security information.

“When this information or reports, whether true of false, surface on the front page of newspaper — that makes the jobs of folks on the front lines tougher, and it makes my job tougher, which is why my attitude has been zero tolerance for these type of leaks and speculation,” Obama said.

As Politico’s Josh Gerstein suggests, the “purposely” qualifier sounds like an escape hatch. Obama didn’t deny that the White House released the information, just that it was not done intentionally or with a purpose in mind.

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President Obama is crying foul against allegations that White House officials leaked classified information to the media for political gain, insisting that the White House would never “purposely” pass on classified secrets. The Hill reports:

“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Obama said. “It’s wrong, and people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office, and the people around me approach this office.” …

Obama said the White House has “mechanisms in place” to “root out” people who leak national security information.

“When this information or reports, whether true of false, surface on the front page of newspaper — that makes the jobs of folks on the front lines tougher, and it makes my job tougher, which is why my attitude has been zero tolerance for these type of leaks and speculation,” Obama said.

As Politico’s Josh Gerstein suggests, the “purposely” qualifier sounds like an escape hatch. Obama didn’t deny that the White House released the information, just that it was not done intentionally or with a purpose in mind.

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers is hinting he has information the administration had relaxed rules on classified information for some in the media:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) stopped short of asserting that the leaks were politically motivated, but he said the administration had decided to share some classified information with the media.

“The committee has materials suggesting that agencies were instructed to expand the scope of classified information they gave to the press. We know in some cases someone from a segment of the media was present in a classified setting,” Rogers said.

Republicans are continuing to call for an independent investigation, and the normally tough-on-leakers Obama administration is still stonewalling the idea.

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Senators Call for Investigation of WH Leaks

Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”

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Sens. John McCain and Saxby Chaimbliss are calling for a Senate probe into whether White House officials leaked details of the cyber warfare program against Iran to the media for political gain. But Senate Democrats are also furious about the leaks, according to The Hill:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.

“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”

“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”

Both Kerry and Feinstein rejected the idea the leaks were politically motivated, but all signs point to White House authorization for the recent New York Times pieces on cyber warfare and drone strikes. This administration has not been shy when it comes to prosecuting leaks in the past, and yet it’s been notably nonchalant about a breach of this scale.

For example, the author of the Times’s cyber warfare story, David Sanger, told Gawker that “No government agency formally requested that I not publish the story.” The White House obviously knew about the article, and could have asked the Times to hold off if it believed the story was dangerous — but declined to do so. Why? And why call an FBI investigation well after the fact?

What we don’t know is whether the leak originated from the White House in the first place, or whether administration officials simply added additional information to a story that was already being written with help from other government sources or even Israeli officials.

We also don’t know what the White House’s motivation could have been for working with Sanger. Maybe officials talked to him because he agreed to withhold information that was even more sensitive from the final story, or because they wanted to make sure the article did as little damage as possible. But because this is the second big White House leak this spring that plays into the Obama campaign narrative, McCain and Chaimbliss are right to be suspicious.

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Administration Iran Leakfest Means Obama’s Tough Stance is Just Talk

Nothing annoys foreign policy establishment types more than the need for presidents to pander to the opinions of the voters. That’s even more true this year than most as President Obama’s desire to pose as Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House has caused him to take stands that not only bother veteran Foggy Bottom “realists” but also his core supporters and staffers who apparently take a dim view of the desire of the overwhelming majority of the American people to support Israel and to vigorously oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But though Obama’s Jewish charm offensive may still be in full swing, government insiders are apparently working overtime to send Israel and the rest of the world the signal that the president’s political commitments ought not to be taken all that seriously.

That’s the upshot of a week of heavy duty leaking on the part of administration officials who are less than thrilled about the fact that the president has publicly enlisted them in an effort to stop Iran. Yesterday, there was the attempt by Washington to expose Israel’s secret alliance with Azerbaijan and thereby ensure that it would be broken off so as to render an attack on Iran more difficult. Today, the New York Times has another leaked story in which anonymous government figures state their concern the president’s public rhetoric on Iran has boxed them into a spot that neither he nor they want to be in.

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Nothing annoys foreign policy establishment types more than the need for presidents to pander to the opinions of the voters. That’s even more true this year than most as President Obama’s desire to pose as Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House has caused him to take stands that not only bother veteran Foggy Bottom “realists” but also his core supporters and staffers who apparently take a dim view of the desire of the overwhelming majority of the American people to support Israel and to vigorously oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But though Obama’s Jewish charm offensive may still be in full swing, government insiders are apparently working overtime to send Israel and the rest of the world the signal that the president’s political commitments ought not to be taken all that seriously.

That’s the upshot of a week of heavy duty leaking on the part of administration officials who are less than thrilled about the fact that the president has publicly enlisted them in an effort to stop Iran. Yesterday, there was the attempt by Washington to expose Israel’s secret alliance with Azerbaijan and thereby ensure that it would be broken off so as to render an attack on Iran more difficult. Today, the New York Times has another leaked story in which anonymous government figures state their concern the president’s public rhetoric on Iran has boxed them into a spot that neither he nor they want to be in.

The leaking demonstrates just how unhappy the Washington foreign and defense policy establishment is about the way the president’s re-election campaign has led him to commit himself to action on Iran. Lest there be any doubt about the purpose of these disclosures, the officials tell the Times their hope is these stories as well as the recent leak about a Pentagon war simulation that was specifically crafted to feed speculation about possible U.S. casualties in the event of a conflict with Iran are designed to “provide the president with some political cover.”

The “cover” will presumably be necessary because the administration has no intention of ever actually going to the mat with Iran in spite of all the tough talk that comes out of the president’s mouth when addressing pro-Israel audiences. Some of the anonymous sources for the Times story are worried about the tough talk taking on a life of its own and overwhelming their proposed diplomatic plans on Iran. But the underlying assumption of these leaks is that the real truth about the president’s plans was revealed in his “hot mic” moment with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when he spoke of having more “flexibility” after his “last election,” not his speech to AIPAC.

But for all the duplicity involved in the formulation of current U.S. policy toward Iran, the leakers have brought attention to a genuine dilemma. The president has condemned “loose talk” about war with Iran and has stuck to his belief that diplomacy can find a way to beguile the Iranians to abandon their nuclear plans. But the talkative administration officials understand all too well that the president’s “window of diplomacy” never really existed. No matter how much they boast of their success in creating an international coalition to back sanctions against Iran, they know this is mere talk. The Iranians don’t believe the Europeans will, when push comes to shove, enforce crippling sanctions against them. And they have no intention of backing down.

That means sooner or later, President Obama will have to choose between actually taking action on Iran and breaking his promise to ensure that Iran never goes nuclear. His staffers just hope that moment comes after November when, they presume, he can safely break his word. After all these leaks, if the Iranians didn’t already know this to be true, they know it now.

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