Currently, there are a couple of U.S. government officials who have been charged, prosecuted, and/or ordered to serve prison time because they were involved in leaks of national security information.
One of these people is former Defense Department official Lawrence Franklin who pled guilty to leaking classified information to two AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. Another is former State Department official Donald Keyser who was charged with taking classified information out of the State Department, something I remember that former CIA Director John Deutsch did when he was reading and processing classified information on his home computer — and definitely on par with former National Security Advisor taking notes from classified memos — and taking memos themselves — from classified material holding vaults.
I’m not in a position to really know what constitutes “guilt” in these cases, and I have softened my own criticism of Franklin and AIPAC if, in fact, the U.S. President has engaged in the same behavior that his staff has.
The response that many have had to Bush’s authorization of leaks that the President has the authority to declassify information does not interest me. The fact is that the President engaged in behavior that his staff are being prosecuted for — and whether I like what Franklin was doing with AIPAC or not — it seems clear to me that given how he saw his boss, Douglas Feith, conducting his office that Franklin would have felt that his behavior was not only appropriate but probably expected.
In the case of Donald Keyser, whom I know by reputation and from afar, he may have been sloppy with classified information — but I know that that State Department and USTR officials, as well as Commerce Department and Treasury officials, trade information back and forth with other diplomats, public intellectuals, NGOs, journalists, and the like. Keyser is a senior guy — and as far as I can tell was engaged in exactly the same sorts of “information exchange” activity that I have been involved with with countless of government officials throughout the administration. As Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report wrote last night — and which I will post later, sometimes the “cops” don’t understand what is normal operating procedure when it comes to the management of ‘sensitive information’.
Again, I do not know the hard details of the cases against people like Keyser and Franklin, but I don’t believe that either of these people were Ames-like spies. They were not self-dealers. They did not seek personal gain in doing their job and leaking information as they did.
And the President of the United States — who has talked a vigilant and hostile line when it came to other leakers — did exactly the same thing.
Bush’s moral credibility is in doubt in the eyes of many Americans, and the latest AP/IPSOS poll shows this — with President Bush’s favorability now posting its lowest ever reading at 36%.
The night that the FBI raided Lawrence Franklin’s office was August 27th, my birthday, and I recall that Josh Marshall (who was over) and I both looked at each other when we heard the news and said it must be Larry Franklin. In an email exchange later that night, CNN’s David Ensor and I traded communications that it appeared Franklin was the target of the FBI investigation.
We would not have suspected Franklin, in my view, if he was not quite visibly engaged in relationship building with an oddball roster of players in the Middle East. Douglas Feith, in my view, had created a culture where this exchange of information, including quid pro quo deals, were part of the way he and his team operated. After all, Feith — who had deep and broad relationships with the senior echelon of Israel’s defense and intelligence bureaucracies — had also housed the Iraqi National Congress in his pre-DoD legal office. Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress Chief of Intelligence Aras Karim Habib was apparently a sieve of information from Feith’s activities and operation to Iranian intelligence.
In fact, one interesting question that few have seriously explored is whether Iran, Israel, Turkey and Chalabi were essentially colluding via Douglas Feith’s operation for some time — both before Feith went into government and after. (I will be writing more about this in a future post.)
In the mean time, however, Bush’s leak makes all other leak controversies look small. This is an administration that has actually gone back to the National archives to reclassify declassified information. This administation is obsessed with creating fortresses around secrets, and then the “top dog”, as Karl Rove has called him, went and leaked highly classified material.
One of the things that really bothers me about this leak is that it’s not like the President authorized the leak and then told the rest of the world that the information he and Cheney were promulgating was now officially declassified.
Let’s have some honesty about this. That material has never been officially “declassified” as part of a process. The material that was leaked (i.e. “declassified” by the President) is not over at the National Security Archives at George Washington University.
This was a selective declassification if one wants to be generous, but the defense of the President’s actions holds no water if the information was not more broadly promulgated than Judith Miller and the other involved journalists. In fact, did Judy Miller think that she was getting “declassified” information — or was she trafficking in “Secret” information. I think the latter.
The President’s potential defense that this was legal is irrelevant. His behavior has undermined all other leak cases and prosecutions where officials were engaged in official work but not self-dealing and engaged in corrupt acts.
— Steve Clemons