As events unfold from the white-hot revelation that two senior Bush administration officials may have leaked the identity of a covert CIA employee, along with the political and governmental effects, do not neglect the very human drama of the story.
As a former Reagan White House staffer, and as Newt Gingrich's press secretary for seven years, I have been involved in leak hunts -- both as the hunter and the (falsely) hunted. Major leak hunts are always damaging to the institutions in which they occur.
The greatest of White House scandals/tragedies -- Watergate -- most probably started when a plumbers' unit was created to hunt down a leak. And, in the related activity of seeking a mole (an enemy double agent) inside intelligence agencies, both the CIA and British intelligence almost ripped themselves apart during the 1960s and 1970s in their various hunts for disloyal employees.
But unlike most leak hunts (and all mole hunts), the presumed leakers in this case are not consciously disloyal to President Bush: quite the contrary. Assuming the basic outlines of the story are true, these leakers were trying to protect the president from what the leakers thought were disloyal CIA employees.
The White House and the CIA have been in almost open conflict over the characterization of CIA intelligence assessments related to Iraq and WMDs for half a year now. When CIA Director George Tenet publicly fell on his sword (after being pressed to do so by senior officials at the White House) over responsibility for the 16 words in the president's State of the Union address, CIA employees were out the same day backgrounding reporters on why it was not really Tenet's or the CIA's fault.
At a deeper level, there is a strategic policy difference between the institutional CIA view (which tends to see terrorism as an inextinguishable fever that can at best be kept at a relatively low temperature) and the White House view (that it is an enemy that is susceptible of definitive defeat if enough resources and shrewd policies can be brought to bear against it).
The partially submerged CIA-White House struggle exploded when Ambassador Joseph Wilson went public with his criticism of the president's 16-word African uranium claim. Bush loyalists were justifiably outraged. Dark suspicions of CIA disloyalty hit critical mass. Their blood was up. It was at that point that the alleged leak occurred.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.