EDITORIAL: Obama, the leaker in chief

Politics trumps national security in Barack’s White House

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President Obama takes umbrage at the idea that a spate of leaks of highly classified national-security information is somehow purposefully intended to bolster his leadership credentials. His resistance to an independent investigation will only make things worse for him. The Obama White House is leaking like a sieve. Trying to cover it up will only make the scandal bigger.

On Friday, Mr. Obama took the charges of selective leaks head-on: “The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national-security information is offensive,” he said. “It’s wrong, and people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.” His protestations carry little credibility. On the previous day, the White House rejected a bipartisan call by leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees to appoint a special counsel to investigate the leaks.

Even very liberal legislators are worried about the brewing crisis of administration staff leaks. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, told CNN on Thursday, “I’ve been on the Intelligence Committee for 11 years and I have never seen it worse.” Mr. Obama’s high dudgeon about the temerity of accusations of White House impropriety will not be enough to save his team from scrutiny.

There have been leaks about drone strikes, U.S. special operations and foreign classified information such as Israel’s alleged deal with Azerbaijan to support a military strike against Iran. There have been leaks to newspapers, TV and Hollywood screenwriters. Some leaks have been more damaging than others. One story that broke last month detailed a CIA informant penetrating high levels of al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, making off with their most sophisticated new bomb and providing information leading to a successful drone strike on a leading militant. The information fed to the public portrayed the operation as a major success, but intelligence specialists were alarmed at the amount of detail that was leaked. Embarrassingly, it soon turned out that this was not an American-led effort at all but a long-term British-Saudi operation that was compromised by the very leaks that trumpeted its success and erroneously attributed credit to the United States. “This does seem to be a tawdry political thing,” former CIA bin Laden hunter Michael Scheur said at the time.

The White House may feel that these leaks will somehow help with the 2012 campaign. Some polling suggests that for the first time in a long time, Democrats have an edge on the question of which party can better handle national security. No matter, that issue will not be decisive in this year’s election. Two weeks ago, a CNN/ORC poll showed that on a list of top national priorities, only 5 percent of respondents mentioned terrorism, and it has been in single digits for months if not years. Other polls by major news organizations over the past few months have had mostly the same results: Terrorism was in the single digits, if it was mentioned at all.

The decisive issues for 2012 are jobs and the economy, which usually are mentioned as the nation’s top priorities by a majority of survey respondents. The only reason there are no leaks coming from the White House about the economy is that there is nothing positive to leak.

The Washington Times

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