Once upon a time (a time coincident with George W. Bush's tenure in the White House), Republicans decried the leaking of classified national security information. After the New York Times revealed his program of illegal domestic surveillance by the NSA, President Bush deemed it a "a shameful act" that is "helping the enemy." Alas, that was then and this is now. As the publication of the confidential McChrystal report on Afghanistan and now a draft DOJ memo about relocating Gitmo detainees to Illinois shows, with a Democrat in the White House, conservatives now love the leak.
On Friday night, right-wing hit man Andrew Breibart's Big Government web site breathlessly published an "exclusive" about a draft memo from the Justice Department calling for Guantanamo "terrorists to be moved to Camp Gitmo Illinois." While the news is neither surprising nor unwelcome to the Illinois political leadership, Big Government and its acolytes crowed about the "giant headache" to come for President Obama.
Of course, this revelation is a brushfire for Obama compared to the firestorm surrounding the leak of General McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan. (Even though they concurred with Obama's ultimate decision to escalate the U.S. presence there, GOP leaders in Congress continue to blast the President for "dithering" and hesitating to "listen to the commanders on the ground.")
Back in September, Politico's Ben Smith brushed off the prospect of an investigation to find the leaker and the Post's decision to print General McChrystal's recommendations as "a rite of passage for the new administration."
White House officials greeted the leak with a grimace, but none suggested they'd begin a witch hunt for the leaker. Woodward is famous for his access to the principals themselves -- he recently traveled to Afghanistan with National Security Adviser James Jones -- and leak hunters couldn't expect with confidence that they'd find themselves disciplining just an undisciplined junior staffer.
Smith offered scenarios which ranged from "an elaborate head fake" orchestrated by the West Wing to build public pressure for a troop drawdown to the latest tactic in the growing neocon campaign to further escalate the American presence in Afghanistan. But coming just two weeks after a letter the Kristol gang sent President Obama - and an anonymous Pentagon official griped, "We are not getting a Bush-like commitment to this war" - the latter seems much more likely.
For one assessment, Politico turned to a veteran of the Bush White House, the same administration which diverted resources from Afghanistan to pursue its misadventure in Iraq:
"This leak would, by all appearances, be the act of someone who supports an increase in troop strength and resources," said Kevin Kellems, a communications director for former Vice President Dick Cheney, who noted that "the power of Woodward going on page A1 is exceptional" in its ability to dictate to wire services and cable outlets, a vanishing power of the newspapers. "This is the act most likely of a civilian who is an advocate of this position and believes they were right to do this because lives were at stake."
Of course, when lives - and the United States Constitution - were at stake with illegal domestic spying on Americans by the National Security Agency, President Bush and his right-wing echo chamber sang a different tune.
After the revelations about the NSA program by the New York Times on December 16, 2005, President Bush three days later raged about what he deemed "a shameful act" that is "helping the enemy". Claiming he didn't order an investigation, Bush added "the Justice Department, I presume, will proceed forward with a full investigation" At a subsequent press conference that same day, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested the retribution that was to come:
"As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, as the President indicated, this is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we'll just have to wait and see."
Leading the charge in the right-wing echo chamber has been Gabriel Schoenfeld, editor of Commentary. On June 6, 2006, Schoenfeld appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to claim that the New York Times violated federal criminal statutes, if not the Espionage Act of 1917 by publishing its delayed story about NSA domestic surveillance. One month later on July 3, he laid out his case in the Weekly Standard, approvingly citing Gonzales' veiled threats towards the New York Times:
"There are some statutes on the books, which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility."
After news of the FBI's raid on Tamm's home in the summer of 2007, Schoenfeld again called for the scalps of Risen and Lichtblau:
"With the investigation making progress, the possibility remains that even if the New York Times is not indicted, its reporters - James Risen and Eric Lichtblau - might be called before the grand jury and asked to confirm under oath that Tamm, or some other suspect, was their source. That is what happened to a whole battalion of journalists in the investigation of Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame fiasco.
If Risen and Lichtblau promised their source confidentiality, they might choose not to testify. That would potentially place them, like Judith Miller in the Libby investigation, in contempt of court and even land them in prison."
Ironically, Republican politicians before and since selectively leaked classified national security information for partisan political purposes.
Take, for example, former House Intelligence Committee chairman Pete Hoekstra. Hoekstra, who in 2006 decried "unauthorized disclosures of classified information [which] only help terrorists and our enemies - and put American lives at risk," this February announced a secret Congressional trip to Iraq via Twitter.
But Hoekstra's Tweet ("Just landed in Baghdad") is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Republican penchant for deploying classified intelligence for political gain.
As Talking Points Memo detailed, in the summer of 2007 the Bush administration was pressing for Congress to codify its regime of illegal NSA domestic surveillance. And at the forefront was John Boehner, who warned of a "gap in intelligence" because a FISA court judge had earlier - and secretly - ruled part of the eavesdropping program illegal. In April 2006, the National Journal revealed that Kansas Senator Pat Roberts leaked details regarding Saddam Hussein's whereabouts on March 20, 2003 even as the Iraq war was just getting underway. And, of course, in the politically treacherous summer of 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney authorized the cherry-picked declassification of elements of the 2002 Iraq NIE as part of a campaign to smear Ambassador Joseph Wilson over his public decimation of the White House's "uranium in Niger" canard.
And so it goes. Apparently, when the criminality of the Republican president is made public, the disclosure is a threat to national security. But when conservatives try to force President Obama's hand on Afghanistan by leaking confidential military assessments, that, Politico informed us, is "a capital parlor game."
And with Barack Obama in the White House, it's a game Republicans love to play.