The PJ Tatler

Is National Security Adviser Tom Donilon the Source of the Administration's Intel Leaks?

Appearing on Hannity Monday night, Democratic pollster Pat Caddell named Obama National Security Adviser Tom Donilon as the source of all the intel leaks that have showed up in the media over the past few weeks:

CADDELL: Well, they have to. They have to. It was their program. The fact, though, is that you have them sitting here. And that is why if you look at Sanger’s book, it’s all Donilon is doing. It’s a big chapter there. And I will tell you this. Let me say something about the President. You know, when his “New York Times,” and that is what it is, he could have called them up, they call FOX all the time saying, we don’t like what you are going to do. They could have called up as President Kennedy did and said, do not do this. Jay Carney could have called. Is there any evidence whatsoever the president said —

HANNITY: No, they want this out.

CADDELL: Of course they do. You know, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

HANNITY: This is important. Think of how the Democrats reacted to the whole Valerie Plame issue.

Actually, we already knew this, sort of. The New York Times story on Obama’s drone kill list not only names Donilon, it includes an Oval Office photo with only three men in the picture: President Obama, counterterrorism adviser John O’Brennan, and Donilon.

The Times quotes Donilon on the record.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

That story was not a leak, it was essentially an Obama campaign press release with posed photo constructed and released to show the president shedding any traces of Hamlet and flexing his national security muscle. It also showed him in a weird bind, as the man who demagogued Gitmo, military tribunals and water boarding but is now ordering lethal strikes without trial. But we’re not supposed to notice that. We’re supposed to see the brooding young president looking at photos of terrorists and ordering them killed to protect us.

The thing is, though, Donilon is not the only source for that drone kill list story.

In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda.

That’s a lot of sources. They’re all talking. Like Donilon, they’re probably not just sources for this story. Some of them are probably sources for the cyber war story too. It’s clear from this exchange that the main source of that story is in the president’s inner national security circle.

At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.

“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.

Told it was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and offered evidence that it was still causing havoc, Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks should proceed. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium.

National Security Adviser Donilon would likely be present at such a meeting.

There’s not much of a mystery here, though there is a scandal. Obama is using national security the way he is using federal immigration law —  as a weapon to be wielded in his re-election campaign. He is authorizing these “leaks” just as he authorized the “leak” of the SEAL Team 6 identities to Hollywood producers so they could make a Barack-got-Osama movie that was originally intended for release just a few weeks before the election.

Unfortunately, Obama knows that he won’t suffer any real legal damage from this scandal, at least not before November. Attorney General Holder won’t do anything meaningful. The Republicans can complain as loudly as they want, but Obama determined after the 2010 mid-terms that a divided Congress squared off against a lawless president is practically useless to stop him. Stopping him requires Senate majority leader Harry Reid to put country before party, and that just is not going to happen.