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Eli Lake Provides Spy Chief Service of Advancing Delusion That He’s Unfair Victim of Snowden’s Leaks

Daily Beast journalist Eli Lake (Creative Commons-licensed photo from the New America Foundation)

Director for National Intelligence James Clapper, who has had to respond to criticisms and concerns about the activities of the US intelligence community as a result of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, fashions himself a victim. He believes the world should know that he does not deserve the trials and tribulations he has been put through. He is also someone whose story should be featured prominently, humanized and told in great detail so everyone can understand he has done nothing wrong.

In order for a powerful government official like Clapper to push his story out into the public, they need a friendly member of the press, who is willing to tell it without challenging the delusional narrative that a leader in the national security state has been suffering as a victim. Eli Lake of The Daily Beast has proven himself to be the kind of adulating reporter of government official’s dreams.

Lake published a “profile of the man most wounded by Snowden.” It gave Clapper the platform to express his pathological view, which journalist Glenn Greenwald appropriately summarized, as one where he thinks he is the “completely undeserving beneficiary of a system of ‘justice’ in which ordinary and powerless people are imprisoned for trivial offenses at greater numbers than any other nation in the world, while those who wield political power, like him, are free to commit crimes without even losing their powerful jobs, let alone being prosecuted for them.”

…James Clapper should look in the mirror every morning and be extremely grateful for the corrupted political system that has shielded him from the consequences of his crimes even as he tries to criminalize others for doing things that the US Constitution guarantees them the right to do.

Instead, he sees himself as the victim. He has medals on his chest and an important national security state position. It is simply outrageous that some people suggest that he has no right to commit felonies, and it’s infuriating that his adult son has to hear some people (almost none in the media) suggest that his criminal conduct should have the same consequences as when ordinary citizens commit less serious crimes. That’s the refusal to accept any personal responsibility, the view of powerful US officials that they are and must be entirely above the law, the obsessive self-regard, that more than anything else has destroyed Washington’s political culture…

Greenwald deconstructs the mindset of Clapper so there is little value in going through that motion again with this post. What is worth highlighting is how the propagation of this warped view would be impossible if there were not a cadre of journalists like Lake willing to reproduce statements shared with them in a manner which does not contest this notion that he is the victim and should not have to be subjected to so much scrutiny.

In Lake’s story, the character of Clapper is a committed supporter of the Constitution. He  has a “wooden relief sculpture” dedicated to it outside of his office. The sculpture “contains a flag, a rendition of the constitutional assembly, and a copy of the document itself. It also has a plaque that reads, ‘What is the magic of the Constitution? The magic is how it states: We, the people. For the first time in history, government was about the people, not about the leader.'” Thus, how could anyone ever think that Clapper would preside over an intelligence apparatus where the rights of US citizens were infringed upon?

He worked in the NSA as a military assistant when files revealing COINTELPRO, domestic spying and infiltration by FBI agents, were released. That was a horrible experience for him. By comparison to Snowden’s disclosures, that was a “managed, conscious, witting effort” to spy on Americans, unlike what the government does with surveillance authorized by the PATRIOT Act.

The character of Clapper in Lake’s story is also a figure who the public should empathize with as he strives to overcome the struggle of maintaining total government secrecy. What is one to do in this age when the government must share information amongst agencies and it is easier than ever to leak massive amounts of classified documents like Snowden or Chelsea Manning? It is not like the intelligence community keeps too many secrets and management failed to institute proper protocols to protect secrets from being disclosed as they were shared but idealistic and conscientious individuals, who have brought uncertainty to the national security state.

There is another woeful facet to his public service, which Lake highlights. He is the “first director of national intelligence to hold the post when the annual intelligence budgets are being slashed instead of fattened.”

But is that even true? Details from documents revealing the “black budget,” which Snowden released, show that spending in the “most recent cycle, according to The Washington Post, rivals spending levels during the “height of the Cold War.” The budget for US intelligence spending is $52.6 billion plus a “separate $23 billion devoted to intelligence programs that more directly support the US military.”

Top Secret America remains terribly bloated and the protagonist of Lake’s profile is not incapable of maintaining American dominance as a result of the minor cuts that may have occurred in recent years.

Lake’s Clapper is a public official “pained” by the continued leaking of secrets (a pain he and President Barack Obama both share).

 After Wikileaks, he authorized the creation of what he called in an interview “mousetraps” to help detect what is known as the “insider threat,” or the officer or analyst who discloses secrets to the public or an adversary. Clapper in the interview said that he was pressing for a new information sharing system for the entire intelligence community that would audit every single data transaction. Those mousetraps however failed to detect Snowden.

And, as if it could be worse for someone tirelessly working to help the government conceal all information that might reveal an out-of-control and abusive national security state, the “gut-wrenching” life he leads has been compounded by the fact that his family, friends and colleagues must sit and watch him be accused of lying because, as Lake puts it, Snowden “led some members of Congress to conclude that Clapper had lied to them.”

It wasn’t wrong for Clapper to lie or be the “least truthful” when addressing whether Americans’ communications were targeted by domestic surveillance. It is wrong that he should have to constantly explain himself when accusations of lying surface in the media again and again.


Nothing reinforces the culture of impunity for government officials like journalists like Eli Lake.

The defining accomplishments of their careers are stories that either reproduce without question the views of government officials who put their trust in a journalist to represent them well or stories which consist primarily of statements from anonymous officials unwilling to go on and record and back up the sometimes hard-to-disprove propaganda they are sharing. (Sometimes a blend of both named and unnamed officials form the basis of these state-identified news stories.)

Though Lake denies it, he was a mouthpiece for the neoconservative case for war and occupation in Iraq, which resulted in around 1 million Iraqis being killed. His article for The New Republic, which earned him an invitation to appear on NPR months before the invasion, included key falsehoods that President George W. Bush’s administration relied upon to propel the US toward invasion.

On NPR, Lake contended that Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza was an “example of a defector who definitely got it right.” Hamza falsely suggested Saddam was “trying to create nuclear weapons in a sort of diffuse manner and that he would require aluminum tubes.” By 1999, Hamza’s claims about Iraq’s weapons program were so “inflated” he could no longer be trusted as credible. This is a source journalists were relying on in the run-up to the war and few scrutinized what he alleged.

Ken Silverstein wrote recently:

[Lake] was an open and ardent promoter of the Iraq War and the various myths trotted out to justify it, contributing to the media drumbeat that helped the Bush Administration sell the war to the public and to Congress. He reported on Saddam Hussein’s close ties to Al Qaeda and his stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and he championed discredited con man Ahmed Chalabi, head of the CIA-backed Iraqi National Congress (INC), who promised that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops “as liberators” and said there would be little chance of sectarian bloodshed after the invasion. Bogus INC material found its way into at least two of Lake’s pieces, including a December 2001 National Review story in which he argued that, with the Taliban defeated in Afghanistan, the United States should consider military action against Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen. “There are very good arguments why all three should be the next target,” he wrote. “Iraq after all has been developing nuclear and biological weapons in underground wells and hospitals, according to Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a defector interviewed by the New York Times. One of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, met with Iraqi intelligence officers in Prague in April.”

As Silverstein outlined, Lake helped US officials fabricate a story about an al Qaeda “conference call” in 2013. He also published “fictitious” propaganda from US authorities on what had really happened in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound that included a false statement that bin Laden used his wife as a “human shield.”

When Lake was an embedded journalist in Iraq working for United Press International as a State Department correspondent, he said, “Every time we turn around they’re telling us how this can kill us and that can kill us,” he said. “I think [the military] want[s] us to forget about (covering the war). Which isn’t a bad idea.”

He was a typical journalist who could easily be made to fear what would happen to him in Iraq if he dared to engage in journalism that strayed from the story the commanders on battlefields wanted to be told by the journalists they had allowed to embed with them.

Now, enamored with the fact that Clapper is willing to give him an “exclusive” interview, Lake is more than willing to help Clapper hold out Snowden as the boogeyman that will bring down all national security agencies, making it next to impossible for the country to protect and keep Americans safe.

The cold hard fact is that is as dubious as the allegations of weapons of mass destruction, which neoconservatives promoted for war in Iraq and which Lake did not have the guts to question at all when he printed statements from them ten years after it all began. But, Lake plays a role in Washington, DC, and the service he provided with his profile is one Clapper is probably privately telling his colleagues was invaluable.

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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."