The White House had egg on its face today. The news about the accidental outing of the name of the CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan seemed to be just one more instance in a long list of incompetent episodes in a second term that is proving to be as problematic as even President Obama’s sternest critics predicted. But the story of how the name of the station chief—which is, obviously, classified material, and was sent out in an email to thousands of journalists as one of a number of people briefing the president during his Memorial Day weekend trip to Afghanistan—should not be dismissed as merely the latest episode of the real life situation comedy that is Obama’s second-term West Wing staff.
Coming as it did from an administration and a political party that has often sought to successfully criminalize the leaking of such information in the recent past, we have a right to ask where’s the outrage about this colossal error? But more than that, this absurd tale also speaks volumes about the hypocrisy and selective prosecution policies pursued by the same people now telling us to move along because there’s nothing to see.
It should be remembered that it was only a few years ago that the same Democratic Party that currently runs the White House was up in arms because the name of a CIA official was leaked to the press. While initially thought to be an act of political revenge by a Bush administration seeking to get even with officials who opposed their Iraq policies, it turned out that the person who actually gave up the now famous name of Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak was Richard Armitage, a State Department official who was just as hostile to the White House as much of the press. But the outrage about Plame’s outing in the liberal mainstream press was universal and white-hot. An angry Washington press corps helped manufacture a crisis that forced President Bush to appoint a special prosecutor to look into an act that was proclaimed to be nothing short of treason. The prosecutor—Patrick Fitzgerald—spent millions of taxpayer dollars largely on trying to pin the leak on Bush political advisor Karl Rove or Vice President Dick Cheney. Even after he learned that it was Armitage who had done the deed and that there was no ill intent or crime to be prosecuted, Fitzgerald didn’t let up and wound up successfully prosecuting Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby for perjury over something he said to a grand jury about the case. Libby was innocent in Plame’s outing as well as of the perjury charge, but that didn’t stop the press from crucifying him. Even today, many Americans still think it was Libby who outed Plame and that in doing so he had endangered her life even though both assertions are false.
Libby’s ruin was the result of partisan politics but once Bush’s Democratic opponents took over in January 2009, they began their own campaign to make leakers pay. In one prominent example, another CIA official, John Kiriakou was sent to prison for leaking the name of another CIA officer who had conducted the waterboarding of al-Qaeda terror suspects.
But when it comes to their own incompetence, this White House isn’t so up in arms about leaks whatever their causes.
Let’s remember that what occurred this past week was far worse than anything that happened to Plame. Plame was, after all, serving in an office in Virginia and, while classified, was no secret. By contrast, the CIA station chief whose name was released is in peril every day in Kabul. He is serving on the front lines of a shooting war and the release of his name in this indiscriminate manner may well have compromised his effectiveness if not his safety.
No matter what the cause of this leak, the person who did it should be punished. If not, those throughout the security establishment who have been harshly treated by an administration that is paranoid about leaks have a right to complain. So does Libby. In the past, high-ranking Democrats such as Clinton administration National Security Advisor Sandy Berger have often gotten a pass or a slap on the wrist for security breaches that were considered serious offenses when committed by Republicans. If the press lets Obama get away with this blunder, it will be just one more example of the refusal of the national press to hold this administration to the same standards that it judges the president’s opponents.