Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Obama unfairly criticized on leak investigations


The Chronicle's editorial page accuses the Obama administration of attacking the First Amendment when it tried to find out about recent leaks of classified information:

An unseasonable chill has settled over the American public's right to know and the ability of the press to tell citizens what they're government is up to...The feds seemed to have conflated journalism with espionage, an unacceptable position in a nation founded on the principle of a free press...President Obama came into office pledging to run "the most transparent administration in history." Its overzealous pursuit and prosecution of leaks, showing little regard for the First Amendment, has proved otherwise.

A Fox News reporter and an Associated Press reporter received classified information from government employees. There's little evidence that the government was interested in prosecuting the journalists; it just wanted to find out who the leakers were. Kevin Drum at Mother Jones, not exactly a right-winger, has a sensible
discussion of the leak to the A.P. reporter, and he links a LA Times story that goes deeper into the issue:

His access led to the U.S. drone strike that killed a senior Al Qaeda leader, Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Quso, on May 6, 2012. U.S. officials say Quso helped direct the terrorist attack that killed 17 sailors aboard the U.S. guided-missile destroyer Cole in a Yemeni harbor in October 2000. The informant also convinced members of the Yemeni group that he wanted to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on the first anniversary of the U.S. attack that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. They outfitted him with the latest version of an underwear bomb designed to pass metal detectors and other airport safeguards, officials say. The informant left Yemen and delivered the device to his handlers, and it ultimately went to the FBI's laboratory in Quantico, Va. Intelligence officials hoped to send him back to Yemen to help track more bomb makers and planners, but the leak made that impossible, and sent Al Qaeda scrambling to cover its tracks, officials said.


In an op-ed in the NY Times, three former Justice Department officials explain why that leak was so damaging:

The leak---which resulted in a May 2012 article by The A.P. about the disruption of a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner---significantly damaged our national security. The United States and its allies were trying to locate a master bomb builder affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that was extremely difficult to penetrate. After considerable effort and danger, an agent was inserted inside the group. Although that agent succeeded in foiling one serious bombing plot against the United States, he was rendered ineffective once his existence was disclosed. The leak of such sensitive source information not only denies us an invaluable insight into our adversaries’ plans and operations. It is also devastating to our overall ability to thwart terrorist threats, because it discourages our allies from working and sharing intelligence with us and deters would-be sources from providing intelligence about our adversaries. Unless we can demonstrate the willingness and ability to stop this kind of leak, those critical intelligence resources may be lost to us.


The Justice Department was right to try to find out who leaked that damaging information to the A.P. reporter. The point was not to harass and/or prosecute the reporter but to find out who the leaker was. The department spent months trying to learn that before they went after the phone records:

Did prosecutors immediately seek the reporters’ toll records? No. Did they subpoena the reporters to testify or compel them to turn over their notes? No. Rather, according to the Justice Department’s
May 14 letter to The A.P., they first interviewed 550 people, presumably those who knew or might have known about the agent, and scoured the documentary record. But after eight months of intensive effort, it appears that they still could not identify the leaker.

There was nothing improper here. The Justice Department was obligated to do what it did:

They were right to pursue the investigation with “alternative investigative steps” for eight months first. And ultimately, they were right to take it to the next stage when they still needed more to make a case against the leaker. If the Justice Department had not done so, it would have defaulted on its obligation to protect the American people.

Imagine the Republican outrage if the Justice Department hadn't conducted a vigorous investigation of the leaks! It would have been Benghazi times ten. Nor is there any evidence that President Obama played a role in any of this, since his Justice Department seems to be genuinely independent, for good or for ill.

Journalists like to think this was all about them and their rights, but that's simply not true. The Obama administration, as the officials point out, is charged with protecting the American people and respecting the First Amendment rights of reporters.

A federal shield law would ensure that reporters couldn't be prosecuted---or even threatened with prosecution---for receiving classified information. But there's something creepy about reporters who publish classified information that damages our national security interests and puts Americans in danger.
 

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6 Comments:

At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government -- lest it come to dominate our lives and interests."
Patrick Henry

"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."
Abraham Lincoln

"The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home."
James Madison

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."
Benjamin Franklin

 
At 10:02 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, of course. You could have quoted another great American, Randolph Bourne, who said, "War is the health of the state."

On the other hand, we have a serious security problem with Islamic extremism. Traditional leftists tend to ignore this real threat because, in their worldview, the US is the enemy, though they would never put that way. Since they essentially agree with the jihadists that the US is the Great Satan, their criticism of radical Islam has been either muted or entirely absent.

 
At 4:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"On the other hand, we have a serious security problem with Islamic extremism. Traditional leftists tend to ignore this real threat because, in their worldview, the US is the enemy, though they would never put that way. Since they essentially agree with the jihadists that the US is the Great Satan, their criticism of radical Islam has been either muted or entirely absent."

That's just ridiculous. Liberals agree with jihadists that the US is the Great Satan? What is wrong with you? I'm born and raised American and damn proud of it, but I absolutely fall politically liberal: way more liberal than the conservative president we have. Nothing about liberal values is un-American. Of all the things I've ever seen you write, Rob, this is the most outlandish. You may sit here on your high horse blog, writing whatever you please since you think you've got everything figured out, but when you make statements like this, it shows that mentally you're still stuck in Kindergarten, unable to comprehend that another viewpoint than your own might possibly share the same underlying love of nation, humanity, and community.

You think by fighting for our constitutionally-given freedoms that I somehow "ignore" the threat of Islamic extremism? Living in a free society doesn't come easy, it's a constant struggle for rights, and it's important to stand up for our civil liberties: the kind our founding fathers granted us, the kind true Americans love. And does it mean we give up some security for these freedoms? Absolutely. But it's worth it. You honestly believe that my own nation is somehow an enemy to me?

This incredibly fallacious stance is a powerful clarity on how your world view works, which is apparently terribly close-minded. How you expect to be taken seriously when you label a basic political leaning, one that's been around since the founding of our nation, I might add, as so un-American as to somehow favor jihad, terrorism, or satan over out beautiful nation, I have no idea.

 
At 9:06 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I'm sure you and other leftists and liberals all love our country and rightly consider yourselves patriotic. But the left in the US is seemingly oblivious to the threat of Islamic extremisim. Try to find a sensible response, for example, in local progressive blogs---or any response, for that matter---to the recent Boston bombings. Mostly you find nothing at all. Why is that? The recent reaction of the Bay Guardian left and even City Hall to the anti-jihad ads on Muni buses is another case in point. Instead of conceding that Spencer and Geller had a legitimate point, the liberal/left view was that pointing this out was somehow an offense against its version of multiculturalism.

Except for one rather wishy-washy editorial in the SF Chronicle at the time, the local print media and local blogs were completely silent during the Islamic riots over the Danish Mohammed cartoons. And of course none of those cartoons was published by the local media. Why is that?

On Obama: His administration is not targeting journalists as journalists. Instead it's simply trying to find the government source of the leaks these reporters received. To hear the ACLU tell it, this was somehow an attack on the First Amendment itself, which is ridiculous.

Pointing out that we have a serious problem with violent Islam is rarely done in the local print media or in the local blogs (I don't watch enough local TV news or listen to local radio news enough to know what they do). Why is that?

I think in part it's a residue of liberal/left bias against US policy left over from the Bush administration. The idea that the US can be the victim of terrorists has not been entirely digested by local progs and liberals. There's always the unstated assumption that somehow the US has provoked these fanatics to attack, perhaps because of US policy in the Middle East.

On my being "taken seriously": One of the things that's surprised me since I started doing this blog in 2004 is how timid people like you are. Why the anonymity? Aren't all progs and liberals in SF brave defenders of liberty in the US? Why in one of the most liberal cities in the country are so many of you too chickenshit to put your name on your opinions? You assume some kind of moral/political superiority to what you call the "conservative" Obama administration---which is ridiculous, by the way---but you can't bring yourself to publicly take responsibility for that opinion!

 
At 9:57 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Looking for something else---a Bay Guardian opinion on why Hulda Garfolo wasn't approved as a member of the Ethics Commission. I didn't find it---I found this on terrorism on the Guardian's political blog by one of their regular contributors:

"Stop fucking meddling.Stop fucking meddling in their affairs--remove the US military from the Gulf (let the oil companies create their own security minus the military that's paid from our taxes), stop the bowing and scraping to Al Qaeda backing Saudis, stop reflexively assuming 'Israel good, Arabs, bad' and acting accordingly and guess what? Out of sight, out of mind---the notion that 'Muslims hate our way of life and want to wage a holy war against us' is belied by the simple fact that the world's largest Muslim nation has so far ignored most things American.'Live and let live' is the sanest philosophy one can embrace in one's personal life, why not in one's political life as well?"

This muddle is typical of left-wing attitudes on terrorism. The assumption that all the US has to do to deal with terrorism is change its policies toward the Middle East, that those policies have somehow provoked the Islamic fanatics to attack the US everywhere in the world---and to attack Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and every other religion they can reach with their violence.

This Islamic supremacism is not a new phenomenon. George Washington built up our navy during his first adminstration to deal with it. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were confronted with it even earlier in 1785.

The Guardian's attitude is an example of what philosopher Sam Harris has called a "ruinous self-deception" about radical Islam.

 
At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have an incredible knack for putting out outlandish statements, and then responding to criticism of them by talking tangentially-related specifics.

The fact is, you said the "leftists" "essentially agree with the jihadists that the US is the Great Satan." Is that simply meant as an obviously false provocative statement to enable you to go down your particular political ideology, or do you just enjoy being a dick?

 

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