On June 1, 2012, New York Times Washington correspondent David Sanger ran an article about how President Obama sped up the Stuxnet program, an alleged cyber-warfare operation begun during the Bush administration and targeted against Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities. Jane Harman, former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said this leak was “very damaging” and had “devastating consequences.” Sanger’s story clearly originated from Obama insiders, since it cited White House Situation Room meetings and comments made in these meetings by the president.
Justice Department sources have told the news media that retired Marine general James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the target of an investigation into this leak. I’m skeptical that a man with Cartwright’s distinguished military career would be involved in a leak like this and that Obama political appointees played no role in a story that appeared designed to make the president look tough against Iran in an election year.
There is a long list of other ways this administration has mishandled intelligence matters. It read Miranda rights to the underwear bomber in December 2009. The FBI was also reading Miranda rights in 2009 to at least some terrorist detainees captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. President Obama ended the CIA’s enhanced-interrogation program on his first day in office and a few months later released classified memos on enhanced-interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects.
The story is still unfolding about how the Obama administration manipulated intelligence related to the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate. Among other things, Congress is seeking answers on how CIA-drafted talking points on this tragedy used by U.N. ambassador Susan Rice on several Sunday-morning talk shows on September 16, 2012, were altered. Rice used these talking points to claim that the violence against the Benghazi consulate that killed Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other U.S. government employees was the result of a spontaneous protest and not a pre-planned terrorist attack.
There are intelligence leaks to the press in every administration. Such leaks often undermine American security by compromising intelligence sources and methods that took many years and enormous sums to develop. The difference with the Obama administration is its pattern of constantly leaking sensitive intelligence and intelligence methods to boost the president politically, as if such leaks will have no consequences and U.S. intelligence capabilities are limitless.
Obama officials have responded to charges by Republican congressmen that it has leaked intelligence to the press to make the president look tough by pointing out that his administration has prosecuted a record number of leak cases. But several of these cases were left over from the Bush administration, and others reportedly stemmed from improvements by the intelligence community in its system to track intelligence leaks to the press.
America’s intelligence is not limitless — it is a finite resource. Once key intelligence sources and methods are compromised, they are usually rendered useless and often cannot be replaced. If they can be replaced, new sources are usually less effective and more costly. Moreover, this series of leaks by U.S. officials will make our allies less willing to share sensitive intelligence with us because they do not want to see their information showing up in the New York Times.
The Obama administration is seriously damaging U.S. national security by treating highly classified intelligence as political capital it can spend, whenever it chooses, to boost the president’s popularity and the perception that he is a strong commander-in-chief. We need immediate bipartisan pressure on the president from Congress to force him to halt self-serving intelligence leaks and to fire and prosecute any administration officials who have been involved in them.
— Fred Fleitz served for 25 years in U.S. national-security positions with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently chief analyst with the Langley Intelligence Group Network.