Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How to Leak Classified Info Like a Man

The debate that's raging about President Bush's NSA wiretaps I think misses a larger, more important point. I can understand the fervor on both sides, although I lean towards the legitimacy of the program.

But consider again the source of the information in the first place. US News and World Report, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all used unnamed "insider" sources. These people who spoke to the press surely have security clearances that are so high and so compartmentalized that they don't even have names for the level they're at - far higher than the Top Secret clearance I held when I was in the Navy. From experience, I can say for certain that all of the clearance holders had extensive and continuing training on what they could and could not say, and to whom they could and could not say it to. None of them were under any illusion that they had a legal right to anonymously leak covert information to the press under ANY circumstances, even if they felt the program was wrong, and none of them were empowered to make Constitutional legal interpretations on their own.

admittedly there are legitimate questions on the programs' legality. But they had been vetted by both Administration lawyers, FISA judges, and Democrats in Congressional Intelligence committees. Once those decisions were made by the political and judicial process, executive agency officers had no standing to circumvent them for any reason.

But say you think that listening in to international phone conversations between Americans with known terror ties and countries known to harbor terrorists amounts to a violation of rights tantamount to American fascism. Or, pretend for a minute that Bush was wiretapping his political enemies like Clinton and Nixon did. Or say that we had secret prisons in Alaska where we kept naturalized Arab citizens in bases and waterboarded them once a day whether they needed it or not. What do you do?

They had many options, none of which they took. They could have complained to their supervisors. Maybe they did and were correctly ignored. They could have reported it to Democrats on the intelligence committee with the same or similar security clearances. This they clearly did NOT do, or we would be hearing about it. They could have quit their jobs in protest, and encouraged their colleagues to do the same.

But even if all that didn't work, and their conscience was so torn that they could no longer stay silent, then they should have stood up. Publicly. By name. And then been willing to face the consequences proudly, even if that included going to jail. Had they done that, they would have deserved the accolades liberals now heap upon them as whistleblowing heroes, martyrs, and defenders of liberty and an open democracy.

But because they did not, one can only conclude that they were moral cowards and traitors to their country, likely driven more by political or personal motives than anything else. I don't use those words lightly. Their actions were no different than if a leaker would have told the papers that we had broken German and Japanese codes in WWII, without the secrecy of which we could not have stopped U-boat attacks in the Atlantic or won the Battle of Midway. They told the enemy of our methods, warned them away from previously fruitful fountains of information that unquestionably had saved lives. Worse, it gave hope to bin Laden's followers who have been told for years that Americans would do exactly this to themselves, and new hope that they could count on the irrational political left in this country and a press hostile to the President to provide them with safe haven and counter-intelligence about our methods.

The people who leaked this information, because of the WAY they did it, are traitors, and they make me so mad I could spit. The press who printed and distributed the stories have done a great service to the forces of Jihad, the enemy of America and of freedom, liberty, and democracy world wide. All Americans should condemn them unequivocally, no matter what one thinks of the merits of the programs they leaked. Anyone who does not so condemn them must be seriously asked - which side are you on?


Waldo said...

Well said Orrin. Too many people within the ranks of our government and our press have put their personal hatred of Bush ahead of what is good for the country. It goes back to the old "end justifies the means" argument. For the left the right thing to do at this time is to eliminate President Bush as a political force. No regard is given to how this is accomplished. The tragedy of this is that our troops in the Middle East are the first to be affected by these leaks.

I agree with Orrin's statement that if you absolutely were convinced that something had to be done, don't do it anonomously. These people that are supplying this information are undermining our country while trying to keep their jobs. They are modern day versions of Alger Hiss. The President needs to clean house.

Cato said...

Hmm...I'm too sick/ignorant of the issue to really comment substantively, but I do have one fairly quick point to make. Orrin asks what side am I on? (I don't entirely condemn the leakers, though I think they what they did was dubious) Many people are acting as if there are two sides here, the forces of Good (Bush) vs. the forces of Evil. That doesn't leave much room for those of us who think that totalitarianism here at home may be more dangerous than terrorism. I reject the dichotomy: I don't have to be pro-government or pro-terrorism. I think there's another side, depending on your perspective, that's pro-america. With more study of the specific incident I'm sure I could come up with a specific decision, but in general: I'm glad there are people who will rat out the federal government when it does something dubious. It may not be right to do so when we're fighting terrorists, but those same people will still be in their jobs if the wiretaps get pulled out for use on american subversives. Those leakers are anti-totalitarians, despite the fact that their leak might promote totalitarianism elsewhere. They've proven themselves willing to subvert governmental actions they see as totalitarian. If everybody who did that did so publicly, we wouldn't have any of them left next time we needed them. As is, they're still there, ready to leak the next totalitarian measure. I don't think the good guys should be expected to use themselves up at one go when they can be useful again and again. Shoot, I bet this is all rambly...I'm pretty sick.

So to sum up, while they may not have done the "honorable" thing, people like them might save our asses sometime.

Orrin Johnson said...

Cato, I understand your point, but disagree. First, there is the distant fear of US being totalitarian, and then there is the very real fear of ACTUAL totalitarianists trying to destroy our country. Remember, civil liberties aren't protected in an anarchy, either - SOME measure of control is necessary, and that requirement increases at the borders during a time of war.

Had they come forward publicly after refusing to take some action, fine. Then they are patriots. But by using the press to leak military policy that had already been agreed to (if admittedly grudgingly) by duly elected politicians of both parties Constitutionally charged with responsibility for those decisions is to subvert democracy, not defend it.

In fact, you could say that the leakers are the ultimate totalitarians. Anonymous, unaccountable person(s) have now decided crucial wartime policies that very likely will affect our everyday lives, subverting the political process for their own ends. However "right" one may think their actions were, they were not consistent with the concept of leadership accountable to the people.

Arleta said...

I agree with Cato's point that we do need watchdogs on the watchdogs - unfortunately, the "possibility" of totalitarianism can so very quickly and without notice become the real thing. However, I do not agree with his conclusion. Those "watchdogs" of democracy did have avenues that did not include leaking their "findings" to the press - as Orrin stated, they could have legitimately stood up before a senate committee and aired their findings without stooping to sneaky back-door tactics that are, without a doubt, politically motivated - not to protect the country from totalitarianism, but to discredit the leadership.
I'm a rarity - a conservative that thinks Bush is not a good guy - but I also am a believer in "Americanism," which means that I believe in "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" - not "Sneaky, Backdoor, and the Paparazzi Way."