Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mark Mazzetti

Another Day, Another Security Leak

The New York Times reported Monday that General David Petraeus issued a secret directive in September, expanding covert military operations in the Middle East. The author, Mark Mazzetti, states that the Times’ staff has viewed a copy of the document. Preparation for the article included speaking to government officials who discussed its contents only on condition of anonymity, because it’s classified.

Fortunately, our information security usually works better than this. Leaks of national-security secrets are the exception and not the rule. But once again, someone on the government payroll, with a clearance, and with knowledge of classified current operations, has broken the law by disclosing what he knows to unauthorized recipients in the press.

It’s unlikely that we will be told someday that the leaker of the Petraeus directive took action because of sleepless nights and professional agony, as Newsweek reported in 2008 of one warrantless-wiretapping leaker who called the New York Times in 2004. In the case of the Petraeus directive, there is no apparent reason for a leaker to be motivated by concern about government overreach or civil rights. Perhaps the motive is disagreement with the policy.

But these leakers aren’t romantic heroes; they are people breaking their government’s security oaths. Thomas Tamm, the known wiretapping leaker, has been investigated (and lionized by the left) but never prosecuted. Yet it’s clear he broke his security oath by going to the media. It’s also clear from the Newsweek story that he came nowhere near exhausting his lawful options for registering concern about the wiretapping program. He apparently talked to a former colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee — but not to his full chain of command at the Justice Department, to the Justice Department Inspector General, or to the intelligence oversight committee of either house of Congress.

James Risen, the Times reporter who broke the wiretapping story, was subpoenaed by Eric Holder last month to disclose the government sources for another of his classified revelations: this one involving information about U.S. efforts against Iran in his 2006 book State of War. Risen has refused to comply. His fate is uncertain; presumably, he might be jailed for contempt of court as Judith Miller was in the Valerie Plame Wilson case.

Miller ultimately agreed to testify after obtaining immunity. While the Plame Wilson case is not the best example of the real problems created by national-security leaks, the outcome with Miller was the right one for more genuinely damaging cases. The “journalist shield” exception should not protect government leakers who are committing felonies by the very act of disclosing classified information to the press.  Journalists should have to tell the authorities who they are.

The New York Times reported Monday that General David Petraeus issued a secret directive in September, expanding covert military operations in the Middle East. The author, Mark Mazzetti, states that the Times’ staff has viewed a copy of the document. Preparation for the article included speaking to government officials who discussed its contents only on condition of anonymity, because it’s classified.

Fortunately, our information security usually works better than this. Leaks of national-security secrets are the exception and not the rule. But once again, someone on the government payroll, with a clearance, and with knowledge of classified current operations, has broken the law by disclosing what he knows to unauthorized recipients in the press.

It’s unlikely that we will be told someday that the leaker of the Petraeus directive took action because of sleepless nights and professional agony, as Newsweek reported in 2008 of one warrantless-wiretapping leaker who called the New York Times in 2004. In the case of the Petraeus directive, there is no apparent reason for a leaker to be motivated by concern about government overreach or civil rights. Perhaps the motive is disagreement with the policy.

But these leakers aren’t romantic heroes; they are people breaking their government’s security oaths. Thomas Tamm, the known wiretapping leaker, has been investigated (and lionized by the left) but never prosecuted. Yet it’s clear he broke his security oath by going to the media. It’s also clear from the Newsweek story that he came nowhere near exhausting his lawful options for registering concern about the wiretapping program. He apparently talked to a former colleague on the Senate Judiciary Committee — but not to his full chain of command at the Justice Department, to the Justice Department Inspector General, or to the intelligence oversight committee of either house of Congress.

James Risen, the Times reporter who broke the wiretapping story, was subpoenaed by Eric Holder last month to disclose the government sources for another of his classified revelations: this one involving information about U.S. efforts against Iran in his 2006 book State of War. Risen has refused to comply. His fate is uncertain; presumably, he might be jailed for contempt of court as Judith Miller was in the Valerie Plame Wilson case.

Miller ultimately agreed to testify after obtaining immunity. While the Plame Wilson case is not the best example of the real problems created by national-security leaks, the outcome with Miller was the right one for more genuinely damaging cases. The “journalist shield” exception should not protect government leakers who are committing felonies by the very act of disclosing classified information to the press.  Journalists should have to tell the authorities who they are.

Read Less

Covert Operations Story Evades White House “Jihad” on Leaks

Politico reported today that a White House “jihad” against leaks of government information exacted a heavy toll on a former FBI official who was sentenced to 20 months in prison for passing classified information to a member of the media. The story describes the rigorous prosecution of former FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz as just the latest instance of an Obama administration decision to crack down on leaking.

What, exactly, Leibowitz leaked went unmentioned in court, and even the sentencing judge admitted that he didn’t know what was leaked or what impact it might have had on policy. In accepting responsibility for his crime, Leibowitz admitted he had erred but said he was “trying to bring to light something he considered illegal.”

Obama’s insistence on prosecuting leakers is interesting, considering the ruckus raised by liberals over government secrecy during the George W. Bush administration. In those days, liberals considered leakers of secret information “whistle blowers,” not felons, even if they were spilling the beans about the most sensitive matters regarding measures against al-Qaeda terror attacks — for example, the New York Times published the details of a warrant-less wiretapping program in 2005. The Times was lauded on the left for blowing up a successful counter-terror operation, but the man whom the same newspaper backed for the presidency in 2008 seems to be treating any similar leaks of information about his administration’s actions as worthy of prison time, not Pulitzers.

However, a story published the same day in the Times leads one to wonder just how committed the administration really is to stopping leaks. Today’s newspaper led its front page with a story about a “broad expansion of clandestine military activity” to disrupt terror groups in the Middle East. It spoke of a “secret directive” signed last fall by Gen. David Petraeus that authorizes the sending of American troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the region to gather intelligence and possibly pave the way for military strikes in Iran. It said the order was a “more systematic” and “long term” version of previous actions ordered by the Bush administration.

The story went on to claim that “some Pentagon officials worry that the expanded role carries risks” and that “several government officials who described the impetus for the order” that the Times reporters appear to have read (they said it stretched over seven pages) did so anonymously.

All of which raises the question of who exactly leaked this story and why. Was it a leak from the White House? If so, is it an effort to bolster the president’s reputation as tough on security? An attempted signal to Tehran that the administration means business about stopping Iran’s nuclear program? (That might be wishful thinking, but let’s hope Tehran doesn’t treat it as a bluff.) Or was it a Pentagon leak by those within the administration or the military who might oppose a more forward American policy against terror or the threat from Iran? We don’t know the answer to those questions, but if the White House response to this leak is tepid rather than white-hot outrage, that might be considered a clue.

At any rate, I’ll bet that Mr. Leibowitz and members of the media who have been placed under investigation for publishing leaks that the White House didn’t approve of will be looking to see whether similar draconian treatment is meted out to Times reporters Mark Mazzetti, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt for their story.

Politico reported today that a White House “jihad” against leaks of government information exacted a heavy toll on a former FBI official who was sentenced to 20 months in prison for passing classified information to a member of the media. The story describes the rigorous prosecution of former FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz as just the latest instance of an Obama administration decision to crack down on leaking.

What, exactly, Leibowitz leaked went unmentioned in court, and even the sentencing judge admitted that he didn’t know what was leaked or what impact it might have had on policy. In accepting responsibility for his crime, Leibowitz admitted he had erred but said he was “trying to bring to light something he considered illegal.”

Obama’s insistence on prosecuting leakers is interesting, considering the ruckus raised by liberals over government secrecy during the George W. Bush administration. In those days, liberals considered leakers of secret information “whistle blowers,” not felons, even if they were spilling the beans about the most sensitive matters regarding measures against al-Qaeda terror attacks — for example, the New York Times published the details of a warrant-less wiretapping program in 2005. The Times was lauded on the left for blowing up a successful counter-terror operation, but the man whom the same newspaper backed for the presidency in 2008 seems to be treating any similar leaks of information about his administration’s actions as worthy of prison time, not Pulitzers.

However, a story published the same day in the Times leads one to wonder just how committed the administration really is to stopping leaks. Today’s newspaper led its front page with a story about a “broad expansion of clandestine military activity” to disrupt terror groups in the Middle East. It spoke of a “secret directive” signed last fall by Gen. David Petraeus that authorizes the sending of American troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the region to gather intelligence and possibly pave the way for military strikes in Iran. It said the order was a “more systematic” and “long term” version of previous actions ordered by the Bush administration.

The story went on to claim that “some Pentagon officials worry that the expanded role carries risks” and that “several government officials who described the impetus for the order” that the Times reporters appear to have read (they said it stretched over seven pages) did so anonymously.

All of which raises the question of who exactly leaked this story and why. Was it a leak from the White House? If so, is it an effort to bolster the president’s reputation as tough on security? An attempted signal to Tehran that the administration means business about stopping Iran’s nuclear program? (That might be wishful thinking, but let’s hope Tehran doesn’t treat it as a bluff.) Or was it a Pentagon leak by those within the administration or the military who might oppose a more forward American policy against terror or the threat from Iran? We don’t know the answer to those questions, but if the White House response to this leak is tepid rather than white-hot outrage, that might be considered a clue.

At any rate, I’ll bet that Mr. Leibowitz and members of the media who have been placed under investigation for publishing leaks that the White House didn’t approve of will be looking to see whether similar draconian treatment is meted out to Times reporters Mark Mazzetti, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt for their story.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.