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Right Turn
Posted at 08:45 AM ET, 06/15/2012

Forget the prosecutors, bring on the oversight

The Post reported on Thursday: “The U.S. military is expanding its secret intelligence operations across Africa, establishing a network of small air bases to spy on terrorist hideouts from the fringes of the Sahara to jungle terrain along the equator, according to documents and people involved in the project.”

The reporter explains: “The U.S. military has largely kept details of its spy flights in Africa secret. The Post pieced together descriptions of the surveillance network by examining references to it in unclassified military reports, U.S. government contracting documents and diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group. Further details were provided by interviews with American and African officials, as well as military contractors.’’ (Emphasis added)

Excuse me, but can anybody keep a secret in this administration?

The amount of detailed, classified information gushing forth from this administration, on everything from drones to Iran to Africa, raises the real issue at the heart of the dispute over an independent prosecutor: Is this administration more lax than others when it comes to classified material or more willing to sacrifice national security objectives for electoral gains?

It is a truism that an administration reflects the character and priorities of the president. In this case we know that President Obama rejiggered the Afghanistan troop withdrawal timetable to line up neatly with the election. His determination to kick every can down the road (Syria, Iran, etc.) so as to avoid U.S. military engagement in an election year is evident. In other words, like a pork barrel road project or gay marriage, the Obama national security agenda is simply one more piece of fodder in the president’s all-consuming endeavor, his own reelection.

So if the president is willing to bend and stretch national security actions for partisan game, why should we expect anything less of his underlings?

As I have argued, an independent prosecutor is not likely to help shed light on what appears to be a widespread pattern of leaking, but neither does the arrangement cobbled together by the attorney general. Reuters reports:

Recent revelations about clandestine U.S. drone campaigns against al-Qaeda and other militants are not part of two major leak investigations being conducted by federal prosecutors, sources familiar with the inquiries said. . . .
Officials said the second leak investigation involves a series of revelations in a book and article by a New York Times journalist about the alleged role of U.S. agencies in cyber-warfare activities against Iran. These include the creation and deployment of a virus known as Stuxnet which attacked Iranian uranium enrichment equipment.
U.S. officials declined to say which of the two prosecutors designated by Attorney General Eric Holder was investigating which alleged leak. Holder told a Senate committee on Tuesday the U.S. attorneys involved, in Washington and Baltimore, were each looking into “separate matters.”

It is hard to believe this arrangement will give us a timely, coherent picture of what is going on in this administration and whether there is widespread carelessness or disdain for secret-keeping.

At the bottom, the problem of leaking is a policy and political failure. Rather than grouse that the right sort of prosecutor hasn’t been selected, why don’t Republican lawmakers tend to their oversight obligations? They can haul whomever they desire to testify, either publicly or, if need be on certain matters, behind closed doors.

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton hit the nail on the head, writing this week:

Congress must play a significant role. House and Senate Judiciary Committees should call Holder to testify, and get his on-the-record assurances that the investigations will be resourced adequately, and make it clear to him that administration ploys to shield the leakers will not be tolerated.
Moreover, the congressional Intelligence Committees should hold hearings promptly to discuss the damage to U.S. national security when highly sensitive information is made public. Right now, voters have only a vague appreciation what is at stake when sensitive sources and methods are endangered and when our adversaries learn about our strategies and capabilities. Using historical examples and simply explaining at greater length the risks and costs we incur because of loose lips will necessarily raise both public awareness and concern.

In short, Congress should get to the bottom of the leak-a-thon, and Republicans concerned that the Obama team is getting away with something should be the loudest voices in favor of a prompt and, to the extent possible, open investigation.

By  |  08:45 AM ET, 06/15/2012

Categories:  National Security, Obama White House

 
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