Jewish World Review Jan 30 , 2012/ 6 Shevat, 5772
Kiriakou case may plug leaks, stifle democracy
By Dan K. Thomasson
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Leaks are a fact of life in Washington, and while every presidential administration since the earliest days of the republic has sought to prevent them, no one has succeeded. But President Barack Obama seems determined to try -- even in the face of mounting criticism from civil libertarians.
So far, Obama's Justice Department has brought six cases against those who have been accused of releasing unauthorized information in contravention of secrecy laws. The latest of these came the other day against a former CIA operative once in the forefront of counterterrorist efforts, who was charged with revealing the names of two CIA interrogators involved in the waterboarding of al-Qaida leader Abu Zubaydah.
Whether or not the actions of John Kiriakou, who helped capture Zubaydah, have damaged the agency is open to question. But what isn't is the fact that over the years, congressional actions -- some official, some not -- have caused more harm to the nation's intelligence efforts than almost anything else short of the treasonous activities of Aldrich Ames in the CIA and the FBI's infamous Robert Hanssen.
Back in the 1970s, Democratic Sen. Frank Church of Idaho decided to expose the CIA's questionable operations hidden under a blanket of national security. In a long investigation, Church and his allies dug deeply into the dark secrets of an agency on the front line of the Cold War.
The revelations of mobster involvement in efforts to rid Cuba of Fidel Castro and the CIA's foreign interventions over three decades were laid bare as never before. They resulted in wholesale changes in the way the agency did business, not always for the better. The CIA's clandestine services ultimately underwent severe alterations that damaged its ability to function in a rapidly changing world. Especially in the Middle East, reliance on electronic spying, rather than the human variety, left it unable to anticipate and head off a series of disasters, including kidnappings of Americans and the early development of terrorist threats like al-Qaida.
President Jimmy Carter's director of central intelligence, Adm. Stansfield Turner, was blamed for decimating the on-the-ground spying cadre. Turner has long denied the allegation, despite clear evidence that his agency failed badly when it came to foreseeing events such as the 1979 invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Iran, which played a significant role in Carter's defeat for re-election.
Kiriakou left the CIA in 2004 after having taken part in Zubaydah's capture in Pakistan two years earlier. Since then, he has written a memoir, worked for a U.S. Senate committee and been visible and vocal in his discussion about the agency's interrogation methods. He also has been an adviser on movies filmed in Afghanistan. Kiriakou's wife, a veteran CIA analyst, was fired from her job following his arrest.
While there is need to protect the nation's secrets -- a task made increasingly difficult by the explosion of communications capabilities -- there is widespread abuse of the classification system. Critics have expressed growing concern that Kiriakou's arrest, along with other cases, will have a chilling effect on the legitimate disclosure of questionable government activities. The government intimidation factor will increase exponentially.
Every president since George Washington has planted information, run up trial balloons and whispered in the ear of friendly reporters when it is advantageous for political or other reasons, or lying when they felt it was necessary "for the good of the country." Congress, as I have said, is not far behind. Trying to plug all the holes in the dam is an exercise in futility.
The use of waterboarding and other controversial techniques has been public information for some time. The seriousness of the current case apparently was the leaking of the names of those doing the interrogating. Without question, there are secrets that need to be kept. One can only hope that this case is not being motivated by CIA vindictiveness against a former trusted operative simply because he didn't like some of his agency's methods. How far should the CIA and the White House go in preserving a culture that may have hidden secrets it shouldn't have? It's a crucial question when an individual's -- and our society's -- freedom is at stake.
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