Leaks are the currency of politics. They come in many flavors, but they all have one thing in common. There has never been a leak that was not motivated by the thought that, by breaking a confidence, a leaker could help himself or his political allies achieve a political or monetary goal.
Big leaks can change the course of world events. The leaker behind the Washington Post story identifying nations in which the CIA had secret prisons to hold and interrogate captured terrorists sought to thwart those nations' cooperation and some of those nations chose to close those prisons. The leaker -- or leakers -- behind the New York Times story on the National Security Administration's secret interception of terrorist communications succeeded in causing a political firestorm around the NSA program, causing new limitations to be imposed on it. The leaker behind the New York Times story showing that a consortium of European financial institutions -- the "SWIFT" consortium -- was helping us trace and interrupt terrorist financing was trying to end that cooperation.
The flood of leaks coming out of the Obama administration are aimed at our intelligence capabilities and at Israel.
Obama and his team are leaking -- and apparently planning to leak -- information that has already damaged our national security and those of our allies. And they are both adept and reckless in their leaks, pursuing some anticipated electoral advantage by their maneuvers.
The principal example was in the rush to announce the killing of Osama bin Laden a year ago. Within a day of the operation that succeeded in killing the world's most-wanted terrorist, the president was on television announcing it. Contemporaneously, administration officials were telling the press that we'd seized an enormous trove of intelligence in the bin Laden compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan. But why the rush?
Intelligence information spoils like raw meat in the hot sun. The fact that we had killed bin Laden was big news, but it shouldn't have been announced so quickly. And having the information we'd seized -- and by then we didn't know how much we had or what it was worth -- was a fact that we should not have disclosed at all. Had Team Obama chosen to keep secret that we'd seized a trove of documents and computer hard drives, the information they contained could have at least been analyzed quickly and possibly used to plan more successful "capture or kill" missions against other al Qaeda leaders and operational terrorists. But by immediately telling the world that we had the information, the Obama administration destroyed its value. Al Qaeda is evil, not stupid. Every one of those leaders and terrorists must have run from their hiding places to new ones we didn't know about.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said last week that an administration leak of the identity of a Pakistani doctor who cooperated with the CIA in verifying that bin Laden was in the Abbotabad compound led directly to the Pakistanis' arrest of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who was sentenced to 33 years in prison by a Pakistani court last week. How many other people will cooperate with the CIA in counter-terrorism operations after that?
Now, according to several reports, we know that many classified details of the bin Laden operation were revealed to a Hollywood team producing a movie on the raid. Hollywood shouldn't be privy to intelligence sources and methods or the methods Dev Group (a.k.a. SEAL Team Six). The only possible explanation of that apparently massive leak of highly classified information is that the Hollywood folks will be grateful enough for the leak to portray Obama heroically just before the election. It's corrupt: bribery by leak.
The leaks pouring out on the bin Laden mission are shocking enough. But they are a commonplace in Obama's pursuit of his reelection.
Last March, Mark Perry's article in Foreign Policy divulged -- on the basis of administration leaks -- that Israel had a secret agreement with Azerbaijan to base aircraft there, giving the Israelis a huge advantage in a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. The motivation is all too clear. Obama wants to postpone the hard decisions any American president would have to make if that attack were made. By leaking the alleged Israeli agreement with Azerbaijan, Obama may have precluded Azerbaijani cooperation with Israel and possibly forced Israel to delay any action against Iran until after November.
The Israelis have been unwilling to assure Obama that they would not attack Iran before or after the election. Now the plans for the inevitable attacks may have to be changed, delaying them an unknown amount of time.
March was a big month for leaks, or plans for them. Pentagon official Brad Roberts told the House Armed Services Committee that the Obama administration was planning to release classified information on our missile defense system to Russia, saying "…cooperation could be well-served by some limited sharing of classified information of a certain kind if the proper rules were in place to do that."
The planned cooperation was so well-served that, two months after Roberts's testimony, Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov threatened a pre-emptive strike to destroy American anti-missile systems deployed in Europe. That was a bluff intended to compel Obama into giving Russia the information it wants. And it will succeed because Obama -- if he's reelected -- can share the information without suffering political damage this year.
Most recently, another leak -- again, alleged to have come from the Obama administration -- revealed the identity of an agent inside al Qaeda. In its zeal to claim credit for stopping another underwear bomber attack, the administration revealed the identity of the man who penetrated al Qaeda and posed as a willing bomber -- apparently a British operator, not one of ours. The Brits are reportedly furious, as well they should be. Why should they share secrets with America when those secrets are to be used politically, the Obama administration claiming credit for stopping the attack?
Every leak that involves another nation -- be it Israel or Britain or Iran or Russia -- is aimed at changing that nation's behavior. Every leak (or announcement) claiming credit for killing a terrorist or thwarting an attack has to be judged in the context of the intelligence information connected to it and how our intelligence community is helped or hurt by it. The Obama administration's practice is to disregard the effects on our allies and our intelligence community.
The job of assessing the effects of the Obama administration's leaks has to be left to historians because those effects can't be foreseen, and many will be hidden (barring more leaks) in the shadow world of intelligence. Some may become apparent soon, as when the Israel-Iran war erupts. Others may remain classified for decades.
But we can judge now that the Obama administration is adept at claiming credit and inept in ignoring the effects of its leaks. It's all about November, and the president is unconcerned about anything else.