When the New York Times publishes information that appears to have been illegally leaked, it should explain how it came across the information. At the very least, it should leave no doubts whether (a) classified information was in fact leaked, (b) classified information was leaked on background with due authorization, or (c) the reporter was only fed unclassified portions of the report. To say that it interviewed a whole bunch of people who spoke on condition of anonymity because “they were discussing a classified intelligence document” on its face suggests the commission of felony, without explaining anything important about why those people were in fact speaking on condition of anonymity. This cannot but leave many of us wondering whether our intelligence agencies are not so hopelessly politicized that they cannot be relied upon to perform their statutory functions consistent with the Constitution.
One sentence in the original Times story needs particular explaining:
The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.
Having served in the national-security establishment, I cannot imagine having said any such thing to a reporter except in deathly fear that I might spend the next ten years in jail, even if the Times came to me with the NIE in hand rather than the other way around. I want to know first whether that “American intelligence official” committed a felony.
Then we can tackle the larger question, which is that of America’s war aims in Iraq: In particular, are we committed to victory, or should our goal instead be to feed Iraq to the terrorists in the hopes of making the “overall terrorism problem” better? It is on that question, and not the one conveniently packaged by the New York Times story, that the elections of 2006 should turn.