The leaking of top secret information by the White House combined with the heavy-handed prosecution of Bradley Manning make it easy to claim hypocrisy. But, compared to the Bush Administration and the Valerie Plame affair, Obama is arguably an angel.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he White House is currently under fire from Republicans, who say the Obama administration has leaked sensitive national security information. Senator John McCain has called for a special counsel to investigate the leaks to be appointed. Under this pressure, the Justice Department announced that they would investigate the leak accusations.
While the President himself has strongly denied this, his administration has leaked information to journalists and authors. This isn’t that unusual. Every White House gives select journalists information they can’t give publicly in an attempt to spin news or draw attention to certain actions of policies. There is a long history of leaks involving national security information.
The Obama administration seems to be leaking successes of its national security policy, which wouldn’t get attention otherwise. This is especially true of the drone campaign. While controversial, the campaign has killed hundreds of suspected terrorists (along with a significant amount of civilians) in Yemen, and elsewhere. The drone campaign puts lie to the conservative accusation that Obama is some kind of dovish peacenik. While the drone campaign began under George W Bush, they have increased exponentially under Obama.
But the campaign should be secret. Revealing in detail things such as “signature strikes” allows the targets to come up with ways around them in the future and renders them less effective. While it is understandable that the administration would want to highlight what is sees as a major success, a drone campaign in nominally friendly countries like Pakistan should at least have a veneer of deniability. The administration itself knows this, as can be seen by the fact that it had always avoided comment on it until last month (coincidentally, just as the 2012 election kicked off).
As well as information about the drone campaign, the White House has also leaked detials about last March’s raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. According to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, it had been agreed in the Situation Room that they wouldn’t release any more information about the Abbottabad raid. But over the last twelve months there has been a steady stream of information shared with the media, including for a History Channel documentary in which President Obama himself appeared (this documentary particularly angered Robert Gates).
Showing how much information is leaked for political purposes, the White House has allowed the film-makers of a movie about the raid an unprecedented amount of access. The movie by Kathryn Bigelow (of Hurt Locker fame), is going to be released right before the election in the fall by Democratic mega-donor Harvey Weinstein.
There’s a major hypocrisy factor with the way senior officials are sharing information with friendly reporters. The Obama White House has prosecuted whistleblowers in a much more zealous way that it’s predecessors. The most famous of these is Bradley Manning, the Army private who leaked hundreds of thousands of documents to Wikileaks. While Manning has been made an example of, facing life imprisonment, members of the White House staff have leaked even more sensitive information. A lot of the Wikileaks information wasn’t classified as top secret, unlike information about the Bin Laden raid or the drone program.
But as with so many others issues, this administration looks better when compared to its predecessor. As well as the usual leaks to people like Bob Woodward there was also a much sleazier leak, the Valerie Plame affair. In that instance, the cover of an undercover CIA officer was blown after her husband criticized the administration’s case for war with Iraq. Ultimately Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby was punished, though it was likely more senior officials had also leaked the name. In that instance, the Bush White House had ruined the career of someone who had spent her life defending her country as a CIA officer in order to attack her husband. In terms of motivation at least, that is an order of magnitude worse than the Obama administration’s desire to trumpet its success.