Furthermore, I rather suspect that the president does not want much discussion of those leaks for another reason: I think a lot of the content is false. I think the Times journalists swallowed a good deal of nonsense. Do you really think he spent many hours choosing the specific targets for our killer drones? I don’t. For one thing, his White House lawyers must have warned him against the practice, because it would expose him — directly and personally — to prosecution for war crimes from bodies like the International Court of Justice, or the various foreign courts that have, on occasion, tried to indict Henry Kissinger or Donald Rumsfeld for their policy decisions. Any attorney worth his billable hours would insist that his client shield himself from such worrisome consequences, by insisting that others — folks in the Pentagon or CIA, for example — make those decisions.
Do you think that President Obama is the sort who spends hours pouring over lists of potential targets and then makes the targeting decisions? It seems out of character to me. Obama seems more inclined to make “big picture” decisions, like increasing the number of drone strikes, than to get involved with the nuts and bolts.
And what about the cyberwar against Iran? The leaks would have us believe that Obama drove the cyberwar (started before he took office) and then had the Israelis brought in. In the past few hours, a very different version has emerged from Israel. Yossi Melman, a veteran Israeli reporter with well-established sources in the intelligence agencies of that country, wrote in Haaretz:
The Israeli officials actually told me a different version. They said that it was Israeli intelligence that began, a few years earlier, a cyberspace campaign to damage and slow down Iran’s nuclear intentions. And only later they managed to convince the USA to consider a joint operation — which, at the time, was unheard of. Even friendly nations are hesitant to share their technological and intelligence resources against a common enemy.
In other words, it was an Israeli initiative, and the Obama administration had to be cajoled into joining in. Doesn’t that sound like the Obama who has singled out Israel for harsh criticism, who has yet to visit Israel, and who has vetoed the congressional bill to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? I think Timesman David Sanger was gulled into writing that Obama was the driving force behind Stuxnet.
Which brings us back to the “now what?” question. Those many members of Congress who are rightly upset at seeing sensitive matters on the front pages of newspapers and in sensational books are adopting the wrong methods in dealing with it all. They should demand sunshine of public inquiry, not a closed investigation that can drag on for years, which is the most likely result of the activities of “special prosecutors.”
This is not a legal matter, it’s a political and policy issue. If Obama ordered or approved the leaks, there is no crime, since he’s the declassifier-in-chief; he can reveal anything he wishes, without legal consequence. Turning this over to lawyers and judges would be just one more case of the criminalization of policy. If you oppose Obama’s expansion of assassinations, say so, and challenge the policy. Don’t act as if leaking details about a practice the whole world has known about for years is the central issue.
If, in fact, the leaks themselves were part of a systematic deception of the American people, that should be made plain, and those who designed and conducted the deception should pay the political price for their lies.
Now what? First things first. Let’s get the facts. Congress can do it, all by itself. And if it turns out that a good deal of the “information” in those stories is false, then the journalists who were gulled into writing a lot of nonsense might even want to tell it like it is.
UPDATE: Thanks to Dan Raviv–the co-author of the book on Israeli intelligence with Yossi Melman, who informs me that Melman is no longer with Haaretz. Indeed, the link above is to the Raviv-Melman web site.