The White House was on the receiving end of some well-earned criticism regarding national security leaks from both sides of the aisle. On Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized White House operatives for the leaks. "I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks," she said, even as she absolved President Obama himself. "I don't believe for a moment that he goes out and talks about it," she added. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was far more direct. Seizing on Feinstein's comment, he slammed the president during his speech at a Veterans of Foreign Wars gathering in Reno, Nevada. "What kind of White House would reveal classified material for political gain? I'll tell you right now: Mine will not," he promised.
Romney also assailed the president for his defense cuts. “Don’t bother by the way trying to find a serious military rationale behind any of that, unless that rationale is wishful thinking," he said. "Strategy is not driving the president’s massive defense cuts. In fact, his own secretary of defense warned that these reductions would be ‘devastating.’ And he is right,” he added.
But he was most incensed about the leaks. Taking note of Feinstein's admission, Romney observed, "Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake. But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action in Iran. This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national security crisis.”
Unsurprisingly, Feinstein attempted to minimize the political damage. Yesterday she released a statement expressing her "disappointment" that Romney would use her remarks to "impugn President Obama or his commitment to protecting national security secrets. I know for a fact the president is extremely troubled by these leaks. His administration has moved aggressively to appoint two independent U.S. attorneys. There is an investigation under way, and it is moving forward quickly," she stated. “I know we are in a campaign season, but I hope the investigation proceeds without political accusation or interference from anyone.”
Mitt Romney has other ideas. “It is not enough to say the matter is being looked into, and leave it at that,” he contended. “It is unacceptable to say, ‘We’ll report our findings after Election Day.’” After accusing the White House of leaking classified information for political gain, he demanded "a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel” of the breaches. “Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed, and punished,” Mr. Romney said in his Reno speech. “The time for stonewalling is over.”
He also addressed Feinstein's backtracking, saying she had been given “the Cory Booker treatment” by the White House. Booker, the mayor of Newark and a rising star in the Democrat party, first referred to administration attacks on Bain Capital as “nauseating” before changing his tune -- after a private meeting with White House officials.
Romney's call for a special prosecutor echoes the demand made last month a by group of Republican senators who also believe the White House orchestrated the release of intel for political gain, and are equally skeptical the two ostensibly "independent" attorneys appointed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) can conduct an independent investigation. At issue are three separate leaks. The first one involved the details of the Navy SEAL's successful raid on bin Laden's compound and other U.S. missions in Pakistan. The second one involved the outing of a British double-agent who thwarted another "underwear" bomb attack. The third leak concerned the details of America's cyberwar against Iran's nuclear program.
And despite the president's contention last month that it was "offensive" to suggest that anyone in his administration is purposely releasing classified information, it is clear that such indignation is at odds with reality. On CBS's "60 Minutes," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta confirmed that Pakistani Dr. Shikal Afridi helped locate Osama bin Laden. British and Saudi officials were furious about the leaks that exposed their double-agent, with former CIA agent Michael Scheur calling them "despicable" and "tragic." Robert Grenier, former head of CIA counter-terrorism, contended that British agents must be exasperated "with their American friends, who are far more leak-prone than they." With respect to the cyberwar against Iran's nuclear program, an incredibly detailed New York Times story about it was attributed to "current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts." And as Judicial Watch discovered, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers disclosed the identity of SEAL Team 6′s commander to Hollywood producers making a movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The movie's original release was scheduled for October, just before the election, but was postponed.
The leaks have been incredibly damaging. Dr. Afridi has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for helping us locate bin Laden. British intelligence services, MI6 and MI5 have been compromised. So have Navy SEAL operational methods. Iran now knows more about how we conduct cyber warfare than ever before, and can take steps to prevent it. Enemies have been given unprecedented access to the top-secret processes regarding the way our intelligence agencies conceive and carry out missions. Revealing the identity of agents in the field has compromised their safety, and severely reduced the likelihood of further cooperation by those with the capability to infiltrate terrorist cells, or provide critical information on their operations.
A bipartisan statement released by the top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Select Committee on Intelligence summed up the damage quite succinctly: “These disclosures have seriously interfered with ongoing intelligence programs and have put at jeopardy our intelligence capability to act in the future,” they wrote. “Each disclosure puts American lives at risk, makes it more difficult to recruit assets, strains the trust of our partners, and threatens imminent and irreparable damage to our national security in the face of urgent and rapidly adapting threats worldwide.”
Those comments were amplified by others. National Intelligence Director James Clapper characterized the leaks as the worst he has seen in his 30 year intelligence career. Sen. Feinstein noted that she had "been on the Intelligence Committee for 11 years, and I have never seen it worse.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) called the leaks “probably the most damaging” in this country’s history, further contending that someone is "going to lose their life. We're going to have operations that will cease. We'll have lost opportunities. All those things are going to happen.”
Regarding the demands for a special prosecutor, the Washington Post's Marc A. Thiessen reveals why one is necessary. One of the attorneys appointed to investigate the leaks is Ronald Machen "who gave thousands of dollars to Obama’s first senate race and his presidential campaign, helped vet candidates for the vice presidential nomination, and called Obama a 'legend' in a 2010 Post profile." Furthermore, both Machen and Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland who is also assigned to the investigation, report to Eric Holder, who has been cited for contempt of Congress. Thus, the likelihood of a politically unbiased investigation is virtually nil.
The NY Post's Michael Goodwin, who believes the investigation "smells like a fix," further notes that the case "is not an open-ended whodunit. The motives are obvious and the potential suspects well known." He explains that White House logs reflect who attended the various meetings where secret information was discussed. "Real prosecutors would put everybody under oath, before a grand jury, and ask away," he contends. Goodwin also makes a telling observation. "Most important, nobody in the White House expressed an iota of outrage that so much classified material had been disclosed. It was only after public criticism that Obama felt compelled to say something," he wrote in June, when the leaks were beginning to reach critical mass.
Financial Times columnist Edward Luce reveals the common theme behind the leaks. "In each case, the leaks presented Mr Obama as a tough but conscientious warrior who pulls the trigger frequently but reluctantly," he writes. Peter King (R-NY), GOP chairman of the House homeland security panel agrees with that assessment, contending the president is using the leaks to "build up his reputation" before November.
Yet one thing that won't be happening before November is any kind of resolution regarding these serious compromises of America's national security. If there is one thing the public has already learned as a result of the Fast and Furious debacle it is that the DOJ is both capable and willing to stall any investigation that could potentially damage President Obama prior to the November election. Even a contempt of Congress citation for Attorney General Eric Holder has failed to move the needle on the 18-month investigation of guns being walked into Mexico. The deliberate slow-walking of the leak investigation will be just as obvious and just as unstoppable.
Thus, it behooves Mitt Romney to turn both the leaks and the investigation into a campaign issue. If he frames the issue properly, nothing is remotely defensible by the Obama administration or its media surrogates, other than to insist the president was an innocent victim of over-eager officials in his administration attempting to burnish the president's terror-fighting credentials. That such over-eagerness has endangered the entire nation in the process, even as the investigation of the leaks languishes? Mitt Romney needs to continually reiterate the question posed by GOP senators demanding a special prosecutor back in June: Where is the outrage?
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