Two years ago, when President Obama picked Leon Panetta to head the CIA, I wrote a piece for NRO describing how Panetta had been considered the prime suspect in the leaking of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous “benign neglect” memo to Richard Nixon in 1970.
At the time, I suggested that a senator ask him in his hearing under oath if he was indeed the leaker of the document, in order to ascertain whether a known leaker was under consideration for one of our nation’s most important national-security positions. Panetta is now being picked for an even more important national-security position, and I still think he needs to be asked under oath whether he undercut Moynihan by giving the non-public memo to the New York Times.
Even though no senator took me up on the suggestion at the time, a number of things have changed in the intervening two years that make the question of Panetta’s position on, and possible history of, leaking even more important. First, the WikiLeaks contretemps has heightened awareness of our vulnerability to the problem of defense and security leaks. And second, just yesterday the Obama administration decided not to prosecute a Justice Department lawyer accused of leaking information about the Bush administration’s anti-terror wiretapping campaign, giving an apparent free pass to future leakers of classified information. These developments, coupled with this possible cloud in Panetta’s background, make it incumbent upon the Senate to determine where Panetta stands — and has stood — on the question of leaking sensitive government information to the media.
— Tevi Troy is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a former White House aide, and a former deputy secretary of health and human services.