20 May 2011

Plugging The UBL Leaks

One of the more troublesome aspects of the raid on Usama bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan is the alluvia of intelligence leaks about the operation.

Even before President Obama officially broke the news about the UBL elimination, Obama Administration sources enthused in background interviews that the team that successfully accomplished their mission would become household names.  So now SEAL Team Six has become a household name.  The victory lap by the Commander-In-Chief to Fort Campbell, Kentucky may not have resulted in a photo op, but it continued to focus public  attention to a group of well trained warriors who prefer to remain in the shadows.

Aside from the high profile congratulations to combat warriors, the White House has been a sieve for leaking operational details and the cornucopia of intelligence gathered from the UBL operation.  Instead of allowing the public to speculate of the fruits from the US Special Forces labor, senior Obama Administration officials confirmed that “real intelligence” is being garnered from the treasure trove computers and flash drives in the UBL compound. The “Senior Administration Official” indicated that al Qaeda’s head was still central to operations and interested in transportation and infrastructure targets. Alas, these leaks were not from “The Onion”.

During Congressional testimony this week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen adamantly insisted that:

[f]rom my perspective it is time to stop talking. And we have talked far too much about this. We need to move on. It's a story that, if we don't stop talking, it will never end. And it needs to.

Mullen is concerned that the continued leaks would compromise this precious capability of intelligence gathering and would impede the continued fight.

Similarly, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is retiring after serving as DOD chief in both the George W. Bush and Obama Administrations, testified that future operations would be riskier and more difficult due to the leaks.  Gates noted that senior Obama Administration officials agreed not to leak UBL operational details, but that arrangement only lasted about 15 hours.

So after nearly three weeks of opening the floodgates of operational intelligence, CIA Director Leon Panetta sent a memo to others in “The Company” that there should be no more UBL leaks.   Although Panetta notes that some of the leaks come from beyond Langley, any staffers who are caught are subject to prosecution by the DOJ.

There was a huge public row against the revelation of CIA Officer Valerie Plame to conservative columnist Robert Novak in 2003.  There was a concerted effort to tarnish and imprison accused President Bush’s advisor Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney advisor Lewis “Scooter” Libby over the leaks.  In fact, Libby was convicted over two process crimes, sentenced to 30 months in prison and two years of probation (both of which were commuted)  a $250,000 fine and huge legal bills.  Ironically, the source of the leak was Plame’s husband former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson and later leaked to Novak by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a moderate and a close associate of Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell.

It is dubious that current Attorney General Eric Holder will investigate this security breach as thoroughly as the Plame Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did, the stakes are much more serious than the revelation of a retired cocktail spy.  Considering that strong statements from key military officials before Congress led to civilian side CIA warnings, this is a glimpse at internecine Obama Administration squabbles with a not so secret instigator.  What compounds the UBL leaks is the fact that Leon Panetta has been designated as the replacement for the SecDef.

Led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will give deference to a Democrat appointee who has already been vetted for his position at the CIA.  But reading between the lines of the Congressional testimony this week, the Pentagon is peeved that so much operational intelligence has been leaked about the UBL operation.   And now the head of a transparent Spook City is poised to be approved as the civilian Grand Poobah of the Pentagon. Rubber stamping this shuffling of Cabinet seats is a mistake, as is the proliferation of political leaks on a major victory in the Long War that was enabled only by good intelligence.

No comments: