The president hasn't endangered national security -- and Congress is pursuing the wrong solution. America needs less classified info, not fewer leaks.
When Joseph Heller's literary heirs satirize the War on Terror's absurdity (for there is absurdity in every war), the treatment of classified information is sure to be as fruitful a theme as it was in Catch-22. For example, the CIA bombarded Pakistan last week with three days of drone strikes, ultimately killing Al Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi. This didn't surprise anyone, for the whole world knows that the CIA uses drones to target Al Qaeda in Pakistan. The drone program is nevertheless classified. The Department of Justice says as much when explaining to judges why it shouldn't be forced to litigate certain cases. And White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is forced into vague locutions when asked about drone kills. "Our intelligence community has intelligence that leads them to believe that Al Qaeda's number-two leader, al-Libi, is dead," he said last week. "I can't get into details about how his death was brought about."
Absurd, isn't it?
It's an abuse of power too. The Obama Administration demands that various things be kept secret for national-security reasons. By talking about those very things, it demonstrates either that it is harming national security, or that it exploits the classification system for leverage in the political realm.
But which one?
That is essential context in the ongoing controversy over leaks in the Obama Administration. "A bipartisan Congressional chorus has been expressing concerns on cable news shows over national security leaks," Michael Calderone reported last week. "Lawmakers suggested that the White House had sanctioned intelligence disclosures for its own political gain, in an attempt to depict the president as strong and decisive when dealing with suspected terrorists."
Attorney General Eric Holder has even appointed two prosecutors to conduct leak investigations. (They're unlikely to end in prosecutions for revealing state secrets, as Charlie Savage explains.)
One thing I find amazing is President Obama's statement. "The notion that the White House would purposely release classified national-security information is offensive, it's wrong, and people, I think, need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me approach this office," he said. "We are dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people -- our families or our military or our allies -- and so we don't play with that."