In 2009, I warned in this space that Obama CIA nominee Leon Panetta was the most likely leaker of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “benign neglect” memo to the New York Times in 1970. Moynihan was a Nixon White House aide at the time, and he had written the memo to President Nixon to make the case that “in quantifiable terms, which are reliable, the American Negro is making extraordinary progress.” Because of this, Moynihan argued, the administration should try to promote moderate African-American voices and try to marginalize radicals.
As I describe in my book Intellectuals and the American Presidency, the leaking of the memo undercut Moynihan’s effectiveness, and he offered to resign, but Nixon did not accept his offer. The leak, however, stayed with Moynihan, and as late as 1994, Al Sharpton was calling him Daniel Patrick “Benign Neglect” Moynihan. While the leaker of the memo was never definitively identified, suspicion fell on Panetta, then a Republican, but also a disaffected staffer at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare who resigned because he was unhappy with Nixon’s approach to desegregation.
Neither the Obama administration nor the Senate found the fact of an accused leaker going to our nation’s top intelligence agency particularly worrisome, and Panetta was confirmed easily. Two years later, Panetta was selected for an even bigger job, secretary of defense. I raised the memo-leak issue again, and suggested that the Senate ask Panetta under oath and on the record if he had leaked the memo in question. Once again, Panetta was confirmed, and as we all know, the Obama administration has had a number of high profile leaks from the national-security establishment, despite the recent scandal regarding spying on the AP and on Fox News’ James Rosen. Last June, the Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway noted some “suspiciously convenient national security leaks,” and pointed to my Panetta warnings, suggesting Panetta as a possible source of the leaks.
Now, Politico’s Josh Gerstein has reported on a draft Pentagon inspector general’s report that found that Panetta was indeed the source of classified information revealed that SEAL Team Six carried out the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. Panetta’s camp has claimed that he thought all 1,300 people attending the speech in which he shared this information were “cleared.” If true, this particular revelation seems to suggest a lack of care rather than a specific plan to release the information. This, however, is no excuse. The leak nonetheless remains a breach of classified information, one that could have been averted had the Obama administration looked more closely into Panetta’s background before selecting him for some of our nation’s most sensitive national-security posts. There is also a lesson in here for future administrations: When selecting personnel, it’s best to assume: once a leaker, always a leaker.