The Dec. 1 edition of The New York Times carried a story about the damage done to U.S. interests by the revelation that the CIA maintains a number of secret interrogation prisons for terrorists in Europe and elsewhere. ("Reports of Secret U.S. Prisons in Europe Draw Ire and Otherwise Red Faces.") Governments throughout the continent are now demanding explanations from the U.S. Department of State and otherwise strutting their outrage that the U.S. might be kidnapping suspected terrorists from European soil and transferring them to other nations.
How did this bit of classified information become public? It was a leak from within the CIA (to The Washington Post in that case) -- and a breathtaking one at that. Though the agency has been steadily leaking damaging stories about the Bush administration since 9/11, it has now crossed a new threshold with a leak that severely damages CIA activities and arguably harms national security -- all for the sake of crippling George W. Bush.
Most people outside the Beltway, as well as many within it, still think of the CIA as the home of swashbuckling hardliners who break all the rules in order to advance America's national interests. Not in this century. As attorney and former counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee Victoria Toensing put it, "Derring-do is dead." When she interviewed a CIA station chief in a major country, he bragged about the diversity of his operatives rather than their accomplishments. Political correctness reigns in the U.S. government at every level, and the CIA is no exception. The result is an agency that is conducting a steady leak campaign against President Bush designed to discredit the Iraq war and undermine the war on terror.
Thomas Joscelyn of The Weekly Standard analyzes another leak by the agency, this one concerning the relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq. On June 9, 2003, The New York Times reported that captured terrorist Abu Zubaydah had told CIA interrogators that there was no link between Iraq and al Qaeda. (Headline: "Captives Deny Qaeda Worked with Baghdad.") Only a year later, when the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its own report on intelligence in Iraq, did the full context of the Zubaydah quote become clear. The unabridged quote included this statement: "Abu Zubaydah indicated that he had heard that an important al-Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and others had good relationships with Iraqi intelligence." Why did the CIA leaker not include that quote in his or her discussions with the Times reporter? Was the agency cherry-picking its intelligence? For more extensive examples of CIA leaking, see "Leaking at All Costs" by John Hinderaker, The Weekly Standard. Hinderaker describes the CIA's campaign against the president as "one of the great untold stories of the past three years."
The CIA has been known to hold up the publication of books by former employees for months or more on national security grounds. And CIA employees are required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Yet the agency permitted an active employee, Michael Scheuer (he has since retired), to pen a broadside against the Bush administration under the provocative pen name "Anonymous." In "Imperial Hubris," Scheuer lambastes Bush for what he calls the "avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war" against Iraq, and argues (in the Cindy Sheehan mode) that under Bush's leadership, America has declined from "the much-admired champion of liberty and self-government to the hated and feared advocate of a new imperial order." These are the words of one of the CIA's top counterterrorism officials.
And there is the peculiar story of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame. The CIA permitted Wilson to publish an op-ed about his mission to Niger in order to damage the president though the agency knew a) that Wilson's claims in the op-ed were quite different from his verbal report about the trip, and b) that the identity of Wilson's wife (who was, after all, the expert on WMDs) would probably come to light. Toensing, who has urged the Congress to investigate the CIA, further notes that Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment of Scooter Libby includes this allegation in paragraph 5: "On or about June 9, 2003, a number of classified documents from the CIA were faxed to the Office of the Vice President. . . . The documents, which were marked as classified, discussed, among other things, Wilson and his trip to Niger, but did not mention Wilson by name. After receiving these documents, Libby and one or more other persons . . . handwrote the names 'Wilson' and 'Joe Wilson' on the documents." Sinister? But at this time, Wilson was actively talking to the press and would publish his own op-ed in July.
The CIA is no longer in the business of political assassination. It has, however, moved on to character assassination. The oversight committees of the Congress would do well to investigate.