Monday, April 10, 2006

Why The Leak Matters

From the NYTimes:

Scott McClellan, the president’s spokesman, disputed the charge of a double standard on leaks. “There is a difference between declassifying information in the national interest and the unauthorized disclosure” of national security information, Mr. McClellan said Friday. Of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, part of which Mr. Libby shared with Judith Miller, then a Times reporter, Mr. McClellan said, “There was nothing in there that would compromise national security.”

Mr. McClellan’s tone contrasted sharply with that of administration officials after the N.S.A. story broke in December. Mr. Bush told a news conference at the time: “My personal opinion is it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.”

We impeached Clinton because he lied to the American people about sex. Well, here's Bush, lying about his involvement in this leak. He spoke this way in December, one assumes, thinking that the authorization he'd given would not be revealed. What other reason could there be? So, thinking himself safe, he openly denounced the leak. Isn't that, empirically, far worse than lying about who you've slept with? Isn't it at least on the same level?

Isn't Bush supposed to be some sort of straight-shootin', outside-the-beltway, no-bullshitter? Then what's up with this?

The real story here, it seems to me, is not about the leak itself, but about what it says about the country. It says to me that personal moral failures (and the ability to look down one's nose at them) are of more interest to the American people than deliberately hiding the truth about an issue of National Security in a time where we're constantly bombarded by harrowing warnings about the dangers of loose lips, and how they sink ships.

And then there's this:

Tenet interceded to keep the [uranium] claim out of a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, but by Dec. 19 it reappeared in a State Department “fact sheet.” After that, the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.

The council’s reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

Bush put his prestige behind the uranium story in his Jan. 28, 2003, State of the Union address.

So, here we are. Two blatant, factually-vetted instances where the President of the United States has intentionally misled the American people. A reasonable person might look upon these not-insignificant obfuscations and wonder just how often this administration is practicing slight-of-hand and misdirection. A reasonable person might wonder why the people most vocal about the importance of National Security - those most willing to give up their privacy (and the privacy of their neighbors) and to engage in preemptive wars - are not angry at that Security having been compromised by their President.

Somehow, Bush has attained a sort of invulnerability. His supporters will (and have) argued that these things either (a) do not concern them, and/or (b) do not matter. That's unassailable as argument. How can you argue the rightness or wrongness of an action with someone who does not care about the issue?

But these things do matter. It does matter that Bush chose to keep the phoney uranium nonsense in his speech. It was deliberate. It was knowingly incorrect. It was designed to sow fear, and to provoke aggression. It was designed to make you a patsy.

Telling the press that the leaker helped the enemy, while being the direct authorization for that leak, is boldly and brazenly hubristic. It was also deliberate. It was knowingly deceptive. It is also a perfect example of how "helping the enemy" is being thrown around these days like "She's a witch!" was back in Salem.

This matters because the President isn't King. He's not above reproach or above criticism. And when he's lied or misled, he should face the consequences for that. Otherwise, he can do whatever he wants. He can say whatever he wants. That's an enormously dangerous thing.


At 1:56 AM, Blogger grassrootsblogger said...

Of course, yes, it all matters a great deal.

And your blog is one of the calmest and most clearly articulated on all of these issues that matter so much. Thank you for that. Keep going.


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