Leaks, Media Double Standards and the CIA Run Amok

The Wall Street Journal had an excellent editorial yesterday on the subject of leaks which is worth quoting at length:

Fired CIA officer Mary O.
McCarthy went on offense Monday, denying through her lawyer that she
has done anything wrong. But the agency is standing by its claim that
she was dismissed last week because she "knowingly and willfully shared
classified intelligence." It has been reported that one of her media
contacts was Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who just won a
Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the so-called "secret" prisons that
the CIA allegedly used to house top level al Qaeda detainees in Eastern

We're as curious as anyone to see
how Ms. McCarthy's case unfolds. But this would appear to be only the
latest example of the unseemly symbiosis between elements of the press
corps and a cabal of partisan bureaucrats at the CIA and elsewhere in
the "intelligence community" who have been trying to undermine the Bush
Presidency. [...]

The case of Ms. McCarthy appears
to be as egregious as it gets as a matter of partisan politics. She
played a prominent role in the Clinton national security apparatus and
public records show she gave $2,000 to John Kerry's Presidential
campaign and even more to the Democratic Party. Such is her right. But
rather than salute and help implement policy after her candidate lost,
she apparently sought to damage the Bush Administration by canoodling
with the press.

There is little doubt that the
Washington Post story on alleged prisons in Europe has done enormous
damage--at a minimum, to our ability to secure future cooperation in
the war on terror from countries that don't want their assistance to be
exposed. Likewise, the New York Times wiretapping exposé may have
ruined one of our most effective anti-al Qaeda surveillance programs.
Ms. McCarthy denies being the source of these stories. But somebody
inside the intelligence community was.

Leaving partisanship aside, this
ought to be deeply troubling to anyone who cares about democratic
government. The CIA leakers are arrogating to themselves the right to
subvert the policy of a twice-elected Administration. Paul Pillar,
another former CIA analyst well known for opposing Mr. Bush while he
was at Langley, appears to think this is as it should be. He recently
wrote in Foreign Affairs that the intelligence community should be
treated like the Federal Reserve and have independent political status.
In other words, the intelligence community should be a sort of clerisy
accountable to no one.

CIA Director Porter Goss is now
facing press criticism for trying to impose some discipline on his
agency. But he not only has every right to try to root out
insubordination, he has a duty to do so because it undermines the
agency's ability to focus on the real enemy. The serious and disturbing
question is whether the rot is so deep that it is unfixable, and we
ought to start all over and create a new intelligence agency.

The press is also inventing a
preposterous double standard that is supposed to help us all
distinguish between bad leaks (the Plame name) and virtuous leaks
(whatever Ms. McCarthy might have done). Washington Post executive
editor Leonard Downie has put himself on record as saying Ms. McCarthy
should not "come to harm" for helping citizens hold their government
accountable. Of the Plame affair, by contrast, the Post's editorial
page said her exposure may have been an "egregious abuse of the public

It would appear that the only
relevant difference here is whose political ox is being gored, and
whether a liberal or conservative journalist was the beneficiary of the
leak. That the press sought to hound Robert Novak out of polite society
for the Plame disclosure and then rewards Ms. Priest and Mr. Risen with
Pulitzers proves the worst that any critic has ever said about media

The deepest damage from these
leak frenzies may yet be to the press itself, both in credibility and
its ability to do its job. It was the press that unleashed anti-leak
search missions aimed at the White House that have seen Judith Miller
jailed and may find Ms. Priest and Mr. Risen facing subpoenas. And it
was the press that promoted the probe under the rarely used Espionage
Act of "neocon" Defense Department employee Lawrence Franklin, only to
find that the same law may now be used against its own "whistleblower"
sources. Just recently has the press begun to notice that the use of
the same Espionage Act to prosecute two pro-Israel lobbyists for
repeating classified information isn't much different from prosecuting
someone for what the press does every day--except for a far larger

Political Scandals Valerie Plame Disclosure Government & Press
Matthew Sheffield's picture