New York Times v. Obama

By Dick Morris on June 12, 2012

Published on TheHill.com on June 12, 2012

Both can’t be telling the truth. One is lying.

The New York Times says that the national-security leaks that exposed our cyber-war against Iran and how our drone strikes against terrorists operate came from “aides” to the president and “members of the president’s national security team who were in the [White House Situation Room]” during key discussions, as well as current American officials involved with the program who spoke anonymously because “the effort remains highly classified.” The author of one of the Times stories, David Sanger, writes that some of his sources would be fired for divulging classified material to him.

White House press secretary Jay Carney calls the charges “grossly irresponsible” and attacks Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for making them.

They can’t both be right.

My money is on The New York Times.

At stake is not just some routine Washington leak. Both the substance conveyed and the motivation for passing the information along separate this story from the run of the mill.

The material leaked could not be more sensitive. It includes the procedure by which kill targets among al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen and the Horn of Africa are selected and the personal role the president exercises in the decisions. Another leak explored the details of America’s cyber-war against the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

But the intent of these leaks is what makes them all the more extraordinary — indeed, sui generis. While most national-security leaks (like those of Daniel Ellsberg and WikiLeaks) are aimed at exposing and discrediting a program, these leaks are friendly fire — designed to enhance the president’s image during a tough reelection campaign.

These leaks are just means to the end of the president’s reelection. They are of a kind with the spiking of the football presidents do.

When George W. Bush declares, “Mission accomplished” or Obama rehashes the details of his decision to kill bin Laden, these are justifiable victory laps around the stadium. But when the leaks compromise ongoing security operations, they fall into an entirely different category. Indeed, they border on treason.

Yet compare the fury generated by the leaking of Valerie Plame’s status as a CIA agent with the silence that has greeted these leaks. Plame’s leaking involved no threat to our nation and did not interdict or threaten any ongoing operation. The leaks were investigated out of pure partisan bloodlust.

The outrage the leaks have kindled in Congress is bipartisan. But from the White House we hear no outrage. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said the leaks are, “frankly, all against [our] national-security interest. I think they are dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the leaks “endanger American lives and undermine America’s national security.” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has convened hearings about the leaks.

But from the administration come only the sounds of silence and the accusation that criticism of the leaks is “grossly irresponsible.”

Top political consultant Pat Caddell speculated that National Security Adviser Tom Donilon might be the source of the leaks. That makes sense. What made no sense was to appoint a political consultant to the role of national security adviser (unless it was for this very purpose — to turn state secrets into campaign ads). But as the leaks surfaced in the newspapers, the president himself must have figured out that it was his top people doing the leaking. But he has resisted calls for an independent counsel to investigate the source of the leaks and relies, instead, on his own discredited attorney general to locate their source.

To quote the comic strip “Pogo,” the president should admit “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

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