You Cannot Leak Your Way to National Security Credibility
President Barack Obama's campaign strategy, at least as it regards foreign affairs, consists almost entirely of boasting of the various covert operation successes that occurred on his watch, and leaking government secrets to buttress these boasts.
This strategy began just days after the successful elimination of arch-terrorist Osama Bin laden in May of last year. Instead of being an operation cloaked in mystery and "no comments," almost every detail of the raid was almost immediately released, from the unit which conducted the daring operation to the CIA operation to successfully track Bin Laden to his Abbottabad compound. That particular leak cost a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, his freedom, and may also cost him his life. Ironically the only secrets that the administration has attempted to protect from that day are the photos showing the deceased Bin Laden, lest pictures of the dead terrorist offend Islamist sensibilities, and which details about the raid the administration provided to Hollywood filmmakers so they could produce the story of the raid, coincidently to get it in theaters before the election.
And there have been plenty other leaks from this Administration. During the State of the Union speech, President Obama publicly congratulated Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta regarding another Navy Seal operation, even while it was still under way. The Obama administration also surely was behind a leak to the New York Times that exposed the American and Israeli allied efforts to conduct cyberwar against the Iranian regime, in an effort to delay Tehran's nuclear weapons program. Further, the article in the Times may only a tip of the iceberg -- it was an excerpt of a newly released book, "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power," by David Sanger, which has recently been released, once again, coincidently just in time to influence the election.
Not only has this election campaign via leak infuriated our own military and intelligence professionals, but overseas, the United States, which has always been regarded as something of a sieve by allied intelligence agencies, is now considered an open faucet. The Obama administration leaked the role played by a double agent in breaking up a commercial plane bombing plot from Al Qaeda in Yemen, including the fact that the agent in question was recruited in London by British Intelligence, and supported through Saudi Arabia's extensive intelligence network in the small Arab peninsula state. The British, and the Saudis, were both furious. U.S. diplomats have also leaked information about alleged Israeli plans to utilize Iran's neighbors in the event of a strike on Tehran's nuclear program, following Secretary Panetta's open speculation about a potential Israeli timeline. The Israelis, and their friends, are equally angry.
Presumably, it's not a coincidence that all these leaks are colored in such a way as to make the President appear as heroic as possible. In the Sanger piece, for example, President Obama is praised for his role in the Stuxnet operation, while an "error," which spread the virus beyond its original intended target, is blamed on the Israelis. And the fawning American media showered praise on President Obama for his ability to "compartmentalize" because he was able to cheerfully taking credit for Navy Seal successes in Pakistan, even while men from the same unit were risking their lives in Somalia to rescue hostages.
It is also not a coincidence that in almost every one of these stories, President Obama is merely taking credit for not terminating a plan of action or a covert capability that was established by his predecessor. In his prior offices, Obama was often criticized for voting "present." As President, it seems, he has continued to do that, in this case by simply not interfering with foreign operations instigated by prior Presidents. The operation which slew Bin Laden was possible only thanks to the Bush Administration's program of detainment and interrogation, including so-called "enhanced" interrogation, which anti-war left, and indeed, then-Senator Barack Obama, loudly campaign against, and swore to put to an end.
This campaign of leaks on foreign policy is unlikely to be successful in any case. Let's consider just the most prominent example. Are we really meant to believe that previous presidents, or future potential presidents, would not have ordered the raid to capture or kill Bin Laden? This doesn't pass the smell test. Virtually every President would have okayed the raid to kill/capture a man responsible for the deaths of over 3000 Americans.
Despite the sycophantic media, these leaks do little to burnish President Obama's foreign policy credentials. Americans who would consider themselves national security voters are well aware of the irony of claiming to be the best administration for covert action while simultaneously spilling one's guts to every reporter with a pen and a notepad. And in any case, how many voters does it win over to leak the story of tortured agony and gutsiness with which the president dispatched commandos to kill terrorists or rescue hostages? These are decisions from most of Middle America expects its Commanders-in-Chief that to make. These self-congratulatory leaks only establish how little the President truly has to be proud of on foreign policy.
Similarly, the secret "kill list" which Obama pores over to determine which terrorists will be slain via drone strike, and which was leaked to the New York Times as an example of President Obama's "principles and will" was only implemented because the Obama administration has utterly abandoned efforts to take wanted terrorists alive, in order to avoid making the political difficult choice of how to detain and interrogate them.
While President Obama would certainly not be the first President to run his foreign policy with an eye on his domestic political advantage, his administration, in a very real way, is undermining the very powers of which they claim to be such judicious stewards. Cyber-warfare, special operation raids, targeting killings of terrorists, intelligence sharing with allies, all these policy tools are weakened, and in some cases effectively neutralized by their public exposure. Whether President Obama wins or loses the next election, the next president will take office to direct an America whose intelligence and special operations capabilities have been weakened by President Obama's time in office. An America whose allies will now decline to share crucial information with it, lest this information be leaked merely so that an American politician can take a national security victory lap.
So for the good of the country, and your own election campaign, please Mr. President, plug the leaks.
Kyle Shideler is the Senior Research Fellow at the Endowment for Middle East Truth. He is a co-author of "Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorism Network: America and the West's Fatal Embrace," and has been published in the InFocus, the quarterly journal of the Jewish Policy Center, and National Security Proceedings, the quarterly journal of the Center for Security Policy. Kyle has briefed congressional staffers, law enforcement officers and intelligence officials on matters ranging from the Iranian nuclear program to Saudi influence operations. He blogs at http://www.emetonlineblog.com