Within days of the leak of former CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity, Sen. Chuck Schumer was demanding a full-scale investigation into the incident, and others soon followed suit. So where are Sen. Schumer and his fellow Democrats in demanding a similar investigation and prosecution of a far more egregious leak of classified material involving the National Security Agency?
Instead of demanding to know who leaked information that could jeopardize both sources and methods for intelligence gathering that will protect American lives, Democrats — and some Republicans — are busy accusing the president of wrongdoing. Response to the two leaks reveals a stark double standard.
Prior to the Iraq war, Plame reportedly recommended her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, for a CIA mission to Niger to determine whether Saddam Hussein was attempting to buy yellow-cake uranium for developing nuclear weapons. When he returned, Wilson published an article in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, critical of the Bush administration’s claims about Saddam’s attempts to obtain weapons of mass destruction, an odd thing for a man to do whose wife was ostensibly under cover at the CIA and had played a role in sending him to Africa in the first place.
Though no one has been charged with revealing Plame’s name, in October a federal prosecutor indicted the vice president’s chief of staff for allegedly misleading federal agents during the course of the investigation, which continues to this day with the president’s top adviser Karl Rove still under suspicion for his role in the affair. The Plame leak caused massive political damage to the Bush administration, but no one has shown that it resulted in any serious breach of national security, especially since Plame herself was in a desk job at Langley by the time her cover had been blown.
The NSA leak, which appeared first in The New York Times on Dec. 16, could cripple intelligence operations in the war on terror. Yet virtually the entire focus of members of Congress since the leak has been on whether the president has broken any laws. Where is the outrage on the obvious lawlessness with regard to the leak itself? The level of detail suggests a source — or sources — with the highest level of security clearance and access to the nation’s most sensitive secrets. Whoever it is that leaked this information should be tracked down and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He or she has jeopardized national security, endangering American lives and compromising intelligence-gathering operations that have already thwarted attacks.
Is it merely a coincidence that there have been multiple terrorist attacks in Bali, Madrid, London and other places, but none in the U.S. since 9/11? Not according to the former head of the NSA, Gen. Michael Hayden. "This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States," Hayden told reporters at a briefing shortly after the Times article appeared. When pressed by reporters on whether getting a search warrant might not have been as effective at thwarting specific threats, Hayden answered, "I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available."
The NSA leak is only the most recent — and perhaps the worst — breach of national security aimed at damaging the Bush administration. Revelations about CIA "black sites," where suspected terrorists have been secretly detained and questioned overseas, made headlines in November, sparking outcries from members of Congress and demands for more investigations. Some Republicans responded by urging that the leaks be investigated, but so far there has been nothing like the steamroller that prompted the appointment of a federal prosecutor in the Plame investigation.
Intelligence gathering is critical to protecting Americans in this asymmetrical war we are fighting. Our sophisticated weapons and large armies can’t stop another attack on American soil like the one that killed 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, but eavesdropping on terrorist cells operating within our country can.
Thanks to the leakers, our enemies now have a much better idea how we’ve gone about gathering information. What’s more, companies that have assisted the government by giving access to data may decide that in light of this publicity, their cooperation is untenable and they should withdraw it. Odds that we will thwart the next attack got much slimmer with the release of this classified information. Whoever leaked this story belongs behind bars.