Jack Kelly: A bad week for the Obama presidency
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The New York Times ran a lengthy story June 1 about how the Stuxnet computer worm has crippled the Iranian nuclear weapons program. On May 29, the Times ran the third in a series of articles on how the U.S. is using drones to track and kill terrorists.
The stories make "the president look very decisive," but give short shrift to the "men and women who make these things happen," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
The articles were rich in detail -- too rich, said the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees last Thursday.
In an election year, it's difficult to get Democrats and Republicans in our highly polarized Congress to agree on anything more controversial than the time of day. So the unanimity of opinion among those on the Intelligence Committees is remarkable -- and alarming.
"We're seeing an avalanche of leaks," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "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 leaks are "one of the most serious of breaches" he's seen during 10 years of service on the House Intelligence Committee, said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md, the ranking Democrat.
The lawmakers also were upset by the disclosure last month that a plot by an al-Qaida cell in Yemen to blow up airliners had been foiled by a double agent who infiltrated the terror group, and the leak last year of the identity of the Pakistani physician who helped U.S. intelligence locate Osama bin Laden's hideout.
The leak about the al-Qaida plot blew an ongoing operation. After he was outed, Pakistani authorities arrested Shakil Afridi. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison.
Mr. McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, thinks the purpose of the leaks is to make the president look good. Democrats aren't willing to go there (yet). But they demand the leaks be stopped.
"The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive," President Obama said in his news conference last Friday.
The president's use of the word "purposely" to qualify his denial sounds like an escape hatch, wrote Josh Gerstein in Politico. He needs one, because it was White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan who exposed the agent in Yemen during a teleconference May 7 with retired officials who comment frequently on television news shows.
Immediately after Navy SEALs killed bin Laden last year, a "senior official," presumed to be Mr. Brennan, told journalists the SEALs captured a "treasure trove" of documents at the bin Laden residence. This premature disclosure robbed them of their "actionable" intelligence value.
When the president began his bin Laden "victory lap" last year, an angry Bob Gates, the former CIA director who was Mr. Obama's first secretary of defense, visited Tom Donilon, now Mr. Obama's national security adviser.
"I have a new strategic communications approach to recommend," Mr. Gates told Mr. Donilon, according to a new book by New York Times reporter David Sanger. "Shut ... up."
They dug up the info on Stuxnet and drones on their own, the reporters say. It was the Pakistanis who outed Dr. Afridi, not them, Obama officials say. But there is no doubt it was Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, an Obama appointee, who disclosed to Hollywood producers the identity of the commander of SEAL Team Six, which is kept secret to protect his family from terrorist reprisals.
Shortly after the president's news conference, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed two U.S. attorneys to investigate the leaks. If Justice pursues this with the vigor it's shown in getting to the bottom of the Gunwalker scandal, they'll still be looking after O.J. Simpson finds "the real killers." Mr. McCain wants a special prosecutor.
"In the last month I've had two separate conversations with serving U.S. officers who were scathing about the fact that every time Mr. Obama finds himself needing to bury bad news domestically, he lays down another national security smokescreen," wrote Peter Foster in the London Telegraph.
Last week was arguably the worst for the Obama presidency. Which of our secrets will be exposed next?
First Published June 15, 2012 4:08 pm