Thursday, February 23, 2006

What Woodward may be scared of

Murray Waas has an incendiary letter from Senator Jay Rockefeller delivering an industrial strength smackdown to the Administration's leak witch hunt.

Did the Bush administration “authorize” the leak of classified information to Bob Woodward? And did those leaks damage national security?

The vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) made exactly that charge tonight in a letter to John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence. What prompted Rockefeller to write Negroponte was a recent op-ed in the New York Times by CIA director Porter Goss complaining that leaks of classified information were the fault of “misguided whistleblowers.”

Rockefeller charged in his letter that the most “damaging revelations of intelligence sources and methods are generated primarily by Executive Branch officials pushing a particular policy, and not by the rank-and-file employees of intelligence agencies.”
Exhibit A for Rockefeller: Woodward’s book “Bush at War".

Here is what Rockefeller had to say:

In his 2002 book Bush at War, Bob Woodward described almost unfettered access to classified material of the most sensitive nature. According to his account, he was provided information related to sources and methods, extremely sensitive covert actions, and foreign intelligence liaison relationships. If it no wonder, as Director Goss wrote, “because of the number of recent news reports discussing our relationships with other intelligence services, some of these partners have even informed the C.I.A. that they are reconsidering their participation of some of our most important antiterrorism ventures.”

I wrote both former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet and Acting DCI John McLaughlin seeking to determine what steps were being taken to address the appalling disclosures contained in Bush at War. The only response I received was to indicate that the leaks had been authorized by the Administration. The CIA has still not responded to a follow-up letter I sent a year and half ago on September 1, 2004, trying to pin down which officials were authorized to meet with Mr. Woodward and by whom, and what intelligence information was conveyed during these authorized exchanges.
Did the leaks to Woodward damage national security? Michael Scheuer, the CIA’s former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, wrote in his book Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror:

“After reading Mr. Woodward’s Bush at War, it seems to me that the U.S. officials who either approved or participated in passing the information—in documents and via interviews—that is the heart of Mr. Woodward’s book gave an untold measure of aid and comfort to the enemy.”

What was not known by Scheuer at the time was that officials on the “seventh floor” of the CIA were literally ordered by then-CIA director George Tenet to co-operate with Woodward’s project because President Bush personally asked that it be done. More than one CIA official co-operated with Woodward against their best judgment, and only because they thought it was something the President had wanted done or ordered.

One former senior administration official explained to me: “This was something that the White House wanted done because they considered it good public relations. If there was real damage to national security—if there were leaks that possibly exposed sources and methods, it was not done in this instance for the public good or to expose Watergate type wrongdoing. This was done for presidential image-making and a commercial enterprise—Woodward’s book.”

As far gone as Woodward has shown himself to be over the last few years, perhaps it is still possible for him to have a "Bridge on the River Kwai" moment -- that flash of satori when a man realizes that he has devoted himself to collaborating with a monstrous regime.

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, the NYT has reported that:
An upcoming article in Commentary magazine suggests that the newspaper might be prosecuted for violations of the Espionage Act and said, "What The New York Times has done is nothing less than to compromise the centerpiece of our defensive efforts in the war on terrorism."
So maybe I didn't quite have it right yesterday. Maybe Woodward isn't turning on his enablers because higher powers told him to. Maybe he lifted his umber snout to the wind and sniffed a sea change. Or maybe he's just scared shitless that the witch hunt bell might soon toll for him. The folks who want to prosecute recipients and publishers of classified information might not look like allies at the moment.

Methinks the ultimate access whore might not be sleeping too well about now.


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