There's something troubling about the recent leaks to the New York Times about President Barack Obama's involvement in authorizing the targeted killings of suspected terrorists and launching cyberattacks against an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility: they're coming from the same administration that has prosecuted more government officials under the Espionage Act of 1917 for sharing classified information with the media than all previous administrations combined. (As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote in a 2010 memo, "People in the intelligence business should be like my grandchildren -- seen but not heard.") Just this week, an American general who suggested that U.S. and South Korean Special Forces were parachuting into North Korea to conduct espionage was replaced in what the military insisted, amid murmurs of disbelief, was a routine personnel change.
This contradictory posture toward national security leaks has exposed the White House to accusations this week that it clamps down on whistleblowing when the disclosures undermine its agenda but eagerly volunteers anonymous "senior administration officials" for interviews when politically expedient. Salon's Glenn Greenwald condemned the "administration's manipulative game-playing with its secrecy powers," the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer called the report on Obama's targeted killings a "White House press release" (the report's authors dispute that claim), and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle decried the "accelerating pace of such disclosures," calling for an investigation and new legislation to address the problem. "They're intentionally leaking information to enhance President Obama's image as a tough guy for the elections," Senator John McCain (R-AZ) charged on Tuesday.
The White House, for its part, has dismissed this allegation as "grossly irresponsible" and argued that, in fact, it seeks to plug leaks that could jeopardize counterterrorism or intelligence operations. But as the examples below suggest, the Obama administration hardly has dealt consistently with counterterrorism and intelligence leaks over the past three-and-a-half years.
Leak: In late May, the New York Times, drawing on interviews with "three dozen of [Obama's] current and former advisers," reported that the president personally approves the names on a "kill list" of suspected terrorists, describing one scene in the White House Situation Room in which Obama pores over a chart of targets resembling a "high school yearbook." While the story cited several anonymous sources, the reporters also quoted aides such as National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon (pictured with Obama above) and Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan directly. As Michael Cohen noted this week at Foreign Policy, the revelations may provide Obama with a political boost given that a whopping 83 percent of Americans approve of Obama's drone policy.
Leak: Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst, is currently charged with aiding the enemy, among other counts, for working with WikiLeaks to orchestrate the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history -- one that included 250,000 diplomatic cables (many of which were deeply embarrassing for the United States, to say the least), tens of thousands of classified documents from Afghanistan, and a video of a U.S. helicopter strike killing unarmed civilians in Baghdad. This week, the judge in the case ordered the U.S. government to hand over its assessments of the damage that Manning, who faces life in prison if found guilty, caused to U.S. interests around the world.
Alex Wong/Getty Images