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Obama’s Hawkish Policy on Leaks Was Adopted to Make an Example Out of Someone

President Barack Obama meets with his national security team in the Situation Room

President Barack Obama’s administration has developed a reputation for aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers or individuals responsible for national security leaks. The policy adopted by the administration was influenced by former director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, who requested a “tally of the number of government officials or employees who had been prosecuted for leaking national security secrets,” according to the New York Times.

Sharon LaFraniere of the Times reports:

In the previous four years, the record showed, 153 cases had been referred to the Justice Department. Not one had led to an indictment.

That scorecard “was pretty shocking to all of us,” Mr. Blair said. So in a series of phone calls and meetings, he and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. fashioned a more aggressive strategy to punish anyone who leaked national security information that endangered intelligence-gathering methods and sources.

“My background is in the Navy, and it is good to hang an admiral once in a while as an example to the others,” said Mr. Blair, who left the administration in 2010. “We were hoping to get somebody and make people realize that there are consequences to this and it needed to stop.” [emphasis added]

Such a comment from Blair is significant because critics of Obama’s policy on leaks (including this writer) have suggested the policy on leaks was about making an example out of someone in order to send a message to others in government not to leak or think about blowing the whistle on national security policies or programs. This comment would seem to validate that suggestion.

Furthermore, one notices that the “aggressive strategy to punish anyone who leaked national security information” does not seem to have been put together with any interest in whether it was the intent of individuals to “endanger intelligence-gathering methods and sources.” The unauthorized disclosures themselves would be enough to prove that an act had taken place that needed to be punished to the greatest extent possible and create a climate similar to what might result if the nation actually had an Official Secrets Act that purely criminalized unauthorized disclosures by security or intelligence employees regardless of intent.

It was found that 153 leak cases had been referred to the Justice Department. Fourteen suspects had been identified, as of 2009. Zero of those had been prosecuted.

Would it be possible to have 14 suspects and decide none of them needed to be prosecuted? The decision to become much more aggressive on leaks than the previous administration of President George W. Bush was a result of high-ranking officials in the Obama administration and pressure from Congress. The answer would, therefore, appear to be “no.”

According to the story:

The Justice Department imposed a tight deadline to decide whether to open criminal inquiries into leaks, shortening to just three weeks a review process that had often dragged on for months. Leaks considered unworthy of prosecution were marked for administrative inquiries. Underscoring the administration’s determination, Robert M. Bryant, Mr. Blair’s national counterintelligence executive, was put in charge of stanching leaks.

That has helped increase the likelihood that suspects are pursued.

A key inspiration for the crackdown was that a “culture of leaking must be reined in to protect covert sources and high-risk intelligence operations and reassure allies that it is safe to share intelligence.” But it would appear the policy has not gone after leaks that could pose risk to “covert sources and high-risk intelligence operations to reassure allies that it is safe to share intelligence” if the leaks fit within the administration’s agenda.

On June 3, it was reported that Israel’s military was furious that the US government had revealed information on a top secret Israeli military installation, “a state-of-the-art facility to house a new ballistic-missile defense system.” An unnamed Israeli military official commented, “If an enemy of Israel wanted to launch an attack against a facility, this would give him an easy how-to guide. This type of information is closely guarded and its release can jeopardize the entire facility.” The spokesperson for the Pentagon, however, shrugged off this concern saying the “United States routinely published the details of its construction plans on a federal business opportunities website so that contractors could estimate the costs of jobs.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."