Lying to Congress. Withholding information from lawmakers. Executive privilege. There is, perhaps, no greater oxymoron than lying to Congress unless, perhaps, it’s withholding red-meat details from a tank of piranhas. There are three stories, not connected at all, which still raise valid points about how much trust we put in our government. First, the case of Bradley Manning, the Army Private on trial for providing classified State Department cables to Wikileaks. Second is the case of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks chief who fears extradition to the United States and the possibility of facing the death penalty for publishing the cables. Apparently, those leaks are not approved…the penalty for which is prison or death.
The Wikileaks case is the one that gives Hilary Clinton and President Obama nightmares. The reality is that the leaks expose the two-faced, backstabbing liars working in the State Department. They expose U.S. foreign policy for what it is, carefully crafted non-sense and lies designed for a myriad if interests that, eventually, leave us all scratching our heads. On Monday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate a series of recent leaks that critics charge are designed to bolster the national security credentials of the Obama administration. Why not? Sounds like a reasonable idea.
David Gergen reminds us about the investigation of the Whitewater real estate deal in Arkansas — in which Bill and Hillary Clinton actually lost money — morphed into the scandal of the Monica Lewinsky affair. During the George W. Bush administration, Scooter Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted not of leaking the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame but of making false statements to the FBI during its investigation of the leak and also perjuring himself. Investigations by special prosecutors can take on a life of their own. Indeed David but those were political investigations that did not touch the often touted national security issues.
The recent leaks involve stories in The New York Times, Newsweek and the Associated Press that range from the hitherto undisclosed role of the United States in cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities to details about the president’s decision-making surrounding the selection of the targets of the CIA drone program in Pakistan and Yemen and the penetration by a spy of al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate. Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed two senior Department of Justice prosecutors to investigate the leaks, and the FBI is also investigating the matter.
But wait a minute. How can Eric Holder be trusted to investigate the leaks? An extraordinary House committee hearing began considering a contempt measure against Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday even though President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over documents sought by the panel investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting. Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, said the White House assertion of executive privilege “falls short” of any reason to delay the hearing.
But wait, back to the Obama leaks for a minute. Well-regarded Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who heads the powerful Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “I think what we’re seeing, Wolf, is an avalanche of leaks, and it is very, very disturbing. It’s dismayed our allies. It puts American lives in jeopardy. It puts our nation’s security in jeopardy.” The story that sparked these claims was David Sanger’s piece in The New York Times earlier this month about the U.S. role in cyberattacks against Iran’s key nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz, revelations that also appear in Sanger’s fascinating new book, “Confront and Conceal.”
Sanger goes into rich detail about how computer viruses were introduced into the Natanz plant and how they then took over the controls of the finely calibrated centrifuges that the Iranians use to enrich their uranium, causing the centrifuges to spin wildly out of control. But did this really hurt U.S. national security? After all, the Iranians know that their problems with the centrifuges at Natanz are caused by cyberattacks and have publicly said so for the past two years. On November 29, 2010, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told reporters in Tehran, “They succeeded in creating problems for a limited number of our centrifuges with the software they had installed in electronic parts.”
Computer experts around the world who examined the Stuxnet virus, the first computer virus that was introduced into the Iranian nuclear program, concluded two years ago that this was a virus that was so complex that it could only have been generated by a state, and the only two states with the technical know-how and motive to write the code for such a virus were Israel and the United States. Last year, German computer security expert Ralph Langner, who had discovered the Stuxnet virus when it had first broken out of the Natanz plant, told a conference in California, “My opinion is that the Mossad is involved. … But, the leading source is not Israel. … There is only one leading source, and that is the United States.”
Sanger’s reporting about the cyberattacks on Iran revealed that the code name for the series of computer viruses unleashed on Iran’s nuclear program is “Olympic Games” and also laid out some of the modus operandi of the viruses themselves, but since much of this was generally known by the Iranian regime, it is unlikely U.S. national security was really harmed by the disclosures. In fact, open discussion of the cyberattacks against Iran is in the public interest because three questions about the attacks quickly present themselves:
– What are the downsides of cyberattacks in a world that is so interconnected by the Internet?
– Since it is the Pentagon’s official position that a serious cyberattack against the United States is a form of warfare, is the U.S. therefore already at war with Iran?
– When does a covert action against an American enemy rise to a form of warfare that it merits a broader public discussion?
Back to Eric Holder for a minute. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched Operation Fast and Furious out of Arizona to track weapon purchases by Mexican drug cartels. However, it lost track of more than 1,000 firearms that the agency had allowed straw buyers to carry across the border, and two of the lost weapons turned up at the scene of the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
Issa and other Republicans on the panel mentioned Terry’s death by name in accusing Holder and the Justice Department of trying to stonewall the investigation of what happened. “The Department of Justice has fought this investigation every step of the way,” Issa said. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, complained that subpoenas for documents remained unresolved eight months later. “We have not gotten to the bottom of this, and Brian Terry was killed in December of 2010,” Chaffetz said. Cummings and other Democrats challenged the Republican contention of stonewalling by Holder, saying political motivations were at play. “It shouldn’t be a political witchhunt against the attorney general and the president in an election year,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York.
Everything in Washington is a political witchhunt. Never be fooled. The allegations against Bradley Manning and Wikileaks are more about the State Department’s ability to lie and create a facade of foreign policy and have every believe it. The leaks did not threaten U.S. national security but they were ugly and politically embarrassing. Fast and Furious obviously created a much more serious threat to our national security but somehow falls under executive privilege to protect who? Of course, the leaks that show Obama as tough on terror are self-serving. Anyone else feel dirty after reading this?