Anybody can make a mistake, and that certainly appears to be what led to the Obama White House’s exposure of the top CIA official in Afghanistan this weekend. Unfortunately, as Roger Kimball details, this is not an isolated incident. In year six of the Obama administration, it speaks volumes about not just incompetence but immaturity and the skewed priorities that come with it.
Exactly because anyone can make a mistake, large organizations — presidential administrations included — build layers of vetting into the disclosure of information to the public. In this instance, because the commander-in-chief made a surprise visit to Afghanistan over Memorial Day weekend, the White House put out a list of government officials the president met with. Somehow, that list included the intelligence official’s name with the designation “chief of station.”
This error is so basic that it grabbed the attention of Scott Wilson of the Washington Post, the “pool reporter” who received the list. Regrettably, he’d already sent out the pool report by the time he noticed the station chief designation and thought to ask whether the White House press office had really intended to put out that information.
That’s how the administration learned about what it had done — from a reporter. Think about that. In the composition and disclosure of this list, many people on both the military end and White House end have to have known that such information should never be circulated. That’s not only true as a matter of principle and common sense; it’s empirically true: Fox News reports that this administration has already had to remove a CIA station chief in Pakistan (in 2010) because of an exposure incident. It is astonishing that such an obvious error was not caught.
It is, moreover, tough to be sympathetic because Democrats never are when the shoe is on the other foot. When Valerie Plame was outed as a CIA operative — apparently inadvertently, by senior State Department official Richard Armitage — Democrats turned the error into a major controversy that damaged the Bush administration. Ms. Plame had a desk job at Langley and there are no indications that her exposure caused much harm. (There were reports at the time suggesting that she had been exposed long before through a bureaucratic screw-up.) By contrast, the official just exposed by the White House is the current top CIA official in a war zone that presents tremendous challenges to the United States, one where intelligence gathering is at a premium. The gravity of this error thus appears far more serious than the one over which Democrats spent years demanding a Bush administration scalp.