Although I support the Edward Snowden leaks that exposed massive government surveillance on millions of innocent Americans, I can understand why Team Obama is trying to better protect classified information. It is legitimate for the U.S. to keep some secrets. And since I've just denigrated Obama's approach to ferreting out potential leakers -- a naive effort to train federal workers to psychologically profile one another -- it's only fair that I suggest a more effective alternative.
In fact, though I am not a federal worker, I've come across evidence that suggests several high-level bureaucrats have revealed highly sensitive, legally classified national security secrets. As yet, these figures have not been prosecuted or punished -- and I am prepared to name names.
Above is John Brennan, the director of the CIA. Previously, he was President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser. As far as I can tell from an analysis of his public appearances, he has exhibited none of the behavior federal employees are told to watch for under the Insider Threat Program: He doesn't seem stressed, hasn't been going through a divorce, and hasn't undertaken suspicious travel. But I've hit upon evidence even stronger than psychological profiling.
White House efforts to soft-pedal the danger from a new "underwear bomb" plot emanating from Yemen may have inadvertently broken the news they needed most to contain. At about 5:45 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 7, just before the evening newscasts, John Brennan, President Barack Obama's top White House adviser on counter-terrorism, held a small, private teleconference to brief former counter-terrorism advisers who have become frequent commentators on TV news shows.
According to five people familiar with the call, Brennan stressed that the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had "inside control" over it. Brennan's comment appears unintentionally to have helped lead to disclosure of the secret at the heart of a joint U.S.-British-Saudi undercover counter-terrorism operation...
The next day's headlines were filled with news
of a U.S. spy planted inside Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian
Peninsula (AQAP), who had acquired the latest, non-metallic model of the
underwear bomb and handed it over to U.S. authorities.
stake was an operation that could not have been more sensitive -- the
successful penetration by Western spies of AQAP, al Qaeda's most
creative and lethal affiliate. As a result of leaks, the undercover
operation had to be shut down.
Wow. If Snowden had helped to compromise a double agent who infiltrated al-Qaeda's most lethal affiliate I'd have to rethink my support for his leaks! Someone really ought to look into this Brennan guy. I assume Team Obama can take it from here and see if these "Reuters" people are credible.
Above is Leon Panetta, who headed the Department of Defense and the CIA in the Obama Administration. He does seem stressed in the photo above, doesn't he? But I wouldn't accuse him of leaking highly classified information on evidence as thin as that. In this case, my source operates out of New York, and is named for the street in lower Manhattan where a wall once stood, separating the city from the countryside beyond. Over the years, the neighborhood became a global financial center; my source specializes in covering financial news.
According to my source, "Former Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta inadvertently
disclosed top-secret information to a Hollywood screenwriter about the
raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to a draft Defense Department report and former officials familiar with the events .... Mr. Panetta 'identified the ground commander by name' and provided
information the Pentagon classifies as secret, the report said. In the
audience was Mark Boal, screenwriter for the film 'Zero Dark Thirty,'
who had been invited by the CIA to attend." Wow. If Snowden had revealed, to a Hollywood filmmaker, the name of a commander on the Bin Laden raid, a legitimate secret if ever there was one, I'd have to rethink my support for his national-security leaks.
* * *
I am not in a position to name any more names, but I do have some strong additional leads for Team Obama to follow. An outfit called the National Broadcasting Company published something awhile back by a guy named Michael Isikoff that the White House ought to take a look at:
In the first 12 pages of his
new book, "Obama's Wars," famed journalist Bob Woodward reveals a
wealth of eye-popping details from a highly classified briefing that
Mike McConnell, then-director of National Intelligence, gave to
President-elect Barack Obama just two days after the November 2008
election. Among the disclosures: the code names of previously unknown National
Security Agency programs, the existence of a clandestine paramilitary
army run by the CIA in Afghanistan, and details of a secret Chinese
cyberpenetration of Obama and John McCain campaign computers.
The contents were so sensitive that McConnell, under orders from
President George W. Bush, barred Obama's own transition chief, John
Podesta, from sitting in at the briefing, which took place inside a
tiny, windowless and secure room known as a SCIP (or Sensitive
Compartmented Information Facility.)
2008 is a long time ago. But given the importance Obama places on prosecuting leaks of classified information, perhaps he can think back to his inner circle in the months just before he took office and recall if anyone seemed particularly stressed or had recently gone through a divorce.
At least we can eliminate John Podesta from the list of suspects.
* * *
It's one thing to tip the public off to the existence of secret programs and legal interpretations that ought to be subject to democratic debate, and quite another to let slip the existence of a double agent who has infiltrated al-Qaeda, or the identity of a SEAL Team 6 commander, whose anonymity is protecting him from a lifetime as a symbolic target of al Qaeda jihadists bent on revenge. I can't think of any public interest served by either of those revelations of classified material.
I just hope, now that the Obama Administration has been made aware of leaks far less defensible than Snowden's, that it pursues Brennan and Panetta before they skip the country and try to claim asylum in Venezuela or Cuba, regimes that have more sympathy than most Western governments for guys who've been complicit in torture or indefinite detention without trial or charges.