...on a lighter note, the incumbent inserts his own name into the biographies of every president since Coolidge (Gerald Ford excluded, for some reason). No narcissism there, folks.
On a more serious note, you know it's campaign season when the story of the underwear-bomb-toting double agent is prematurely leaked. It initially came out that the provocateur was an al Qaeda agent and that the CIA had thwarted a terrorist bombing attack. Then it came out that said provocateur was a double agent who was working for the CIA. Both stories were fundamentally flawed. The double agent in question is a Saudi-born British national, and it was British intelligence, not CIA, who ran the operation. British officials are understandably angry that this story was leaked so soon, calling it "despicable".
Who leaked? The obvious answer is one or more officials in the Obama administration. The CIA does have its leakage problems but, at the same time, would not risk compromsing an operation still in progress. What's more, exposing the identity of the double agent is bad form because it would put at risk CIA's ability to recruit future agents. After a week of football-spiking on the anniversary of bin Laden's death and Obama's announcement that he supported the redefinition of marriage, the timing of the leak of this "international sting operation worthy of Hollywood" is more than curious. Barry wanted to do more chest-thumping, in my opinion. But the premature leaking of this operation has fallout.
But the emergence of this story, with a blow-by-blow account of operational detail, is the result of reckless, impetuous leaking that could cost lives and compromise operations in the future.
For a start, the story appears to have trickled out far too soon.
One US official has noted that “this operation could have gone on for some time … when it was cut off by a leak”. Even once the agent turned up in Saudi Arabia, it was clear that his intelligence was helping to target a spate of crucial drone strikes within Yemen – including one that killed AQAP’s head of external operations, a man responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
If the group learnt of their member’s defection from the media, who knows what countermeasures they took? How did that stymie further arrests or airstrikes? AQAP’s chief bomb-maker, Ibrahim Al-Asiri, might even have escaped as a result.
After all, the agent was reportedly evacuated from Yemen two weeks before the appointed date for his attack. He might have remained quietly operational for that entire period, contacting his colleagues and passing on their location. This leak appears to have frustrated a painstaking and risky operation, of the sort that cannot come around very often.
Second, it’s possible that the story shouldn’t have been leaked at all, at least not in such detail. Agents work with intelligence services because their anonymity – and therefore safety – is guaranteed. AQAP now knows the name and location of their traitor.
Even if he is under secure Saudi Arabian guard, or on a different continent entirely, what about his contacts in Yemen and his family elsewhere? Might there have been other recruits in place, whose contact with the defector now compromises their position?
Those agencies responsible for this operation – whether American, Saudi Arabian, British or all three – might even have chosen to stage the agent’s death in an air strike, or simply keep his status ambiguous for as long as possible. They no longer have that option, thanks to these leaks. Moreover, infiltrating future moles into terrorist groups will be all the more difficult.
Third, and finally, it’s one thing to leak your own organisation’s role – but it’s another thing entirely to implicate your foreign partners, and thereby jeopardise their future operations too.
Michael Walsh is right:
But here’s a rude question: Why do we even know about this?
Or, at least, why couldn't we have known about this a year from now, after all of the possible intelligence could've been extracted? Those rude questions sort of answer themselves. Congress should have known about this before the media, but that didn't happen in this case. What should have been commendable has turned crass and embarrassing. National security was sacrificed for political point-scoring.
Frank VanderSloot and seven other major Romney supporters, few Americans had ever heard of the Idaho Falls businessman. But since then, a private investigator with Democratic ties has tried to get into his sealed divorce records, his children have been harassed, and he has lost customers. He hasn’t been deterred personally and says he may just increase his contribution to Mr. Obama’s challenger to show that he cannot be intimidated. What Mr. VanderSloot and most of those who have commented on his travails misses is that it is not about him.
These threats are aimed instead at the hundreds and perhaps thousands of potential Romney contributors who will slink away lest they, too, become targets of the Obama attack machine. What Mr. Obama’s political managers are doing by so viciously attacking those who would support the president’s opponent is precisely what former Obama Environmental Protection Agency official Al Armendariz bragged about doing when he compared his agency’s strategy to that pursued centuries ago by Rome’s legions:
“You make examples out of people. … And you hit them as hard as you can,” Armendariz told a town-hall meeting in 2010. “It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean,” he told his audience. “They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they’d crucify them. And then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
Not only is it open season on public figures, it's open season on the people who support them with money. Oh, well, it's on then.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Yep, the White House blew it, first on the initial release of the story...
The initial story of the foiling of an underwear-bomb plot was broken by the Associated Press.
According to National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, due to its sensitivity, the AP initially agreed to a White House request to delay publication of the story for several days.
But according to three government officials, a final deal on timing of publication fell apart over the AP's insistence that no U.S. official would respond to the story for one clear hour after its release.
When the administration rejected that demand as "untenable," two officials said, the AP said it was going public with the story.
...and then by Obama's top counter-terrorism advisor, who...
...held a small, private teleconference to brief former counter-terrorism advisers who have become frequent commentators on TV news shows.
According to five people familiar with the call, Brennan stressed that the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had "inside control" over it.
Brennan's comment appears unintentionally to have helped lead to disclosure of the secret at the heart of a joint U.S.-British-Saudi undercover counter-terrorism operation.
A few minutes after Brennan's teleconference, on ABC's World News Tonight, Richard Clarke, former chief of counter-terrorism in the Clinton White House and a participant on the Brennan call, said the underwear bomb plot "never came close because they had insider information, insider control."
A few hours later, Clarke, who is a regular consultant to the network, concluded on ABC's Nightline that there was a Western spy or double-agent in on the plot: "The U.S. government is saying it never came close because they had insider information, insider control, which implies that they had somebody on the inside who wasn't going to let it happen."
So, AP would've delayed the story had the White House agreed to a modest condition, and the information about the double agent would not have come out sooner had John Brennan not spilled the beans in a conference call. Looking back on it, the leaks were less about political opportunism and more about the Obama administration's basic incompetence. Liberals can rest easy now.