Everybody here who is shocked that a president would leak secret information to defend a policy, advance an agenda or simply gain political advantage please raise your hand.
No one? We thought so.
The inner workings of the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations, perhaps the best-documented of the presidencies, show that it happened, if not exactly all the time, with enough frequency to demonstrate that official secrecy is often a sham.
The Bush administration has been so pious about invoking “national security” to shield its doings from Congress and the public that it’s hard not to take some satisfaction from the president being revealed as the leaker in chief in the CIA-leak scandal.
According to the special prosecutor’s account of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s testimony, President Bush personally authorized the top aide to Vice President Cheney to share information from a CIA National Intelligence Estimate, one of the U.S. government’s closely guarded documents, with selected reporters to make the administration’s case that Iraq was aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons.
This might be a little devious, but it’s the way business has been done in the capital for a long time, and the president indeed does have the power to declassify documents.
You have to give the president credit for keeping a straight face in the fall of 2003 when he told reporters, “I want to know the truth. I want to see to it that the truth prevails.” By that time it was clear that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
Libby surely felt that he was acting honorably in defending the vice president’s credibility from attacks by Joseph Wilson, who had belittled the White House contention that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa. And so far nothing has surfaced to indicate that Bush or Cheney approved disclosing the identity of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent, the leak that set off this whole investigation.
Libby’s legal problems do not involve his handling of classified information, but federal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
The lessons so far are that this whole mess needn’t have happened. None of the “secret” information that has come to light seemed worth protecting. Just because information is secret doesn’t make it accurate. And leak investigations are almost invariably a bad idea.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)