Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Everybody's Full of Shit About Leaks

Eli Lake trying to defend Saint Petraeus.

That is what it says in a damning statement of facts issued Tuesday by the Justice Department and signed by Petraeus as part of a plea agreement under which he faces a $40,000 fine. But viewing the Petraeus case in a vacuum -- a powerful and ambitious man falling from grace -- misses an important larger point: Leaking confidential and classified information is engrained in our political culture. The enforcement of laws against it is inconsistent, hypocritical and often enables excessive secrecy.

Lying to the FBI is a serious matter. Even some of Petraeus's staunchest defenders are disappointed in him. Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told me, "It's about time it came to a conclusion, but I am disappointed that he broke the law. I would have expected more from him." Chaffetz was one of the lawmakers who first publicly asked the FBI why it was taking so long in its investigation into the retired general.


For one thing, Broadwell did not end up disclosing any state secrets to the public. When Petraeus resigned, Obama himself said the circumstances of the retired general's affair did not damage national security. The Justice Department's own statement of facts says, "no classified information from the aforementioned black books" appeared in Broadwell's book, "All In: The Education of David Petraeus." It was even sold in 2012 at the CIA's book store.


"He gave those books to Broadwell so she could check her facts, the dates, that kind of thing," said Jack Keane, a retired Army general and one of Petraeus's closest friends. "I don't see how this is different than when other senior national security figures give notes and material to prominent authors."

For an FBI that has to enforce the law against the unauthorized disclosure of secrets in this environment, it must be maddening. But it is also part of the fabric of the national security state. Leaks are how the mid-level sends messages to the top level. Leaks are how senior bureaucrats and junior senators press favored policies and carry out grudges. Giving sympathetic authors access to state secrets is also how powerful generals and cabinet secretaries burnish their images.

And now:

Everybody constructs reasons for leaks they like and leaks they don't like. I can see crossed lines - like the NSA leaking details of a politician's personal life they obtained through their glorious surveillance vacuum, or a Vice President outing a CIA asset to take revenge on her husband - that would be clearly bad, but most "good leak/bad leak" rationalizations are pretty thin.