Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rights? What rights?

In a direct assault on our need to know if our government is acting incorrectly and out of control, the Bush administration made good on its threats to find and fire the leaker of information at the CIA that led to the revelations of our use of "clandestine detention centers" overseas in our war on terror. The New York Times reports that although the CIA won't come out and say it, several other sources in Washington have identified Mary O. McCarthy, a veteran intelligence analyst, as the source of the information. The last four paragraphs of the Times story are interesting:
Several former intelligence officials who were granted anonymity after requesting it for what they said were obvious reasons under the circumstances were divided over the likely effect of the dismissal on morale. One veteran said the firing would not be well-received coming so soon after the disclosure of grand jury testimony by Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff that President Bush in 2003 approved the leak of portions of a secret national intelligence estimate on Iraqi weapons.

"It's a terrible situation when the president approves the leak of a highly classified N.I.E., and people at the agency see management as so disastrous that they feel compelled to talk to the press," said one former C.I.A. officer with extensive overseas experience.

But another official, whose experience was at headquarters, said most employees would approve Mr. Goss's action. "I think for the vast majority of people this will be good for morale," the official said. "People didn't like some of their colleagues deciding for themselves what secrets should be in The Washington Post or The New York Times."

Paul R. Pillar, who was the agency's senior analyst for the Middle East until he retired late last year, said: "Classified information is classified information. It's not to be leaked. It's not to be divulged." He has recently criticized the Bush administration's handling of prewar intelligence about Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons programs.
I agree with Paul Pillar's assertion that classified information "is classified information." What's more, classified information has to be treated the same by all branches of government. The executive branch can't leak to suit its needs, then punish other leakers in other branches because it's damaging to a sitting administration's credibility. Porter Goss, Bush's appointed head of the CIA, is disingenuous at best when he stated that "foreign intelligence officials had asked him whether his agency was incapable of keeping secrets." I think the bigger questions they ask themselves is if we can even find any secrets to keep, and if we know reality from fiction well enough at the highest levels of government before we act upon it.

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