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Why Would Woodward Leak Confirmation of US-Pak Collaboration on Drone Strikes While Sharif Was in DC?

Obama and Sharif enter the Oval Office yesterday.

Obama and Sharif enter the Oval Office yesterday.

On the same day that Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, spoke to the press alongside US President Barack Obama in Washington, Bob Woodward teamed with Greg Miller to release confirmation that Pakistan’s government has agreed to and collaborated in choosing targets for the US “secret” drone program inside Pakistan. Participation by Pakistan, and especially its military, has long been known by close observers and the regular insistence by Pakistan’s government that drone strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is viewed cynically as the government’s need to provide domestic political cover.

On first thought, the timing of this revelation seems to break the basic tenets of what Marcy describes as the Bob Woodward Law that applies to classified information being leaked to Woodward:

As explained by John Rizzo in the context of the Obama Administration’s leaks to Bob Woodward, they can and do insta-declassify stuff for their own political purposes all the time. They can do it to make the President look important; they can do it to lie us into an illegal war; they can do it to ruin the career of someone who might expose the earlier lies.

The timing of this leak seems to be aimed more at embarrassing Obama than making him look important. The description of the joint appearance by the New York Times is quite interesting if one assumes that Sharif and Obama were aware that the leak was about to be published:

But Mr. Sharif said after the meeting that he had asked Mr. Obama to halt American drone strikes in Pakistan, broaching an issue that has aggravated tensions. The president did not respond publicly, saying only that the two sides needed to find ways to fight terrorism “that respect Pakistan’s sovereignty, that respect the concerns of both countries.”

So Obama would not address the drone issue directly in his public remarks. But it seems that Sharif was not particularly enthusiastic in his obligatory public denouncement of drone strikes: Read more

According to DOD Inspector General Definition, Bradley Manning Did Not “Leak”

The unclassified version of the DOD Inspector General report on leaks within DOD over the last three years (that is, during the Obama Administration) defines “leak” this way.

Unauthorized disclosure of SCI [Secure Compartmented Information] to the public which is defined as: “A communication or physical transfer of [SCI]information to an unauthorized recipient.” DoDD 5210.50, Section 3.2, “Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information to the Public,” dated July 22, 2005. [second bracket original]

A leak is a leak of Secure Compartmented Information, not just classified information.

To be sure, the report’s own insertion of that second bracket makes it clear this definition applies to this report. Congress focused on SCI information when it ordered the IG to do the report in a classified annex of this fiscal year’s Defense Appropriation:

The investigation shall contain the following: an inventory of the leaks of SCI data including those attributed to a “senior administration official” from the past three calendar years; the actions taken to investigation each of the events; which of the investigations were referred to the Department of Justice; and what additional actions were taken after the Department of Justice investigation.

The House Appropriations Committee didn’t require the IG to inventory all classified leaks, just the SCI ones.

Nevertheless, as defined, Bradley Manning’s alleged leaks are classified, not SCI.

Whereas this report shows that people from Obama’s Administration, including at least one senior administration official, have been leaking SCI.

We confirmed with DoD components that some unauthorized disclosures of SCI to the public did occur within DoD between December 23, 2008 and December 23, 2011. Among the unauthorized SCI disclosures to the public reported, a DoD Senior Official was directly attributed as a source of unauthorized SCI disclosures to the public. DoD components also reported that they followed established DoD guidance and procedures for forwarding unauthorized disclosure cases to the Department of Justice for action when appropriate.

Now, again, this report is the unclassified version; I’m sure the report provided more detail in the classified version sent to the Chair and Ranking Member of 10 different committees and subcommittees.

But note what this results paragraph doesn’t say. While it confirms at least one of the leaks from a senior administration official was unauthorized, it only cataloged the unauthorized leaks, suggesting there may be more SCI leaks that were authorized (consider, for example, the leaks of a range of compartment names to Bob Woodward, which John Rizzo suggested were part of “one big authorized disclosure,” or reported cooperation between DOD and CIA and Hollywood on the movie about Osama bin Laden’s killing, itself the subject of a different investigation).

Further, while Congress mandated the IG do so, this unclassified report does not explain what happened to these SCI leak referrals at DOJ. Has DOJ been pursuing the SCI leaks by senior administration officials as diligently as it has pursued people like Thomas Drake, who was charged with retaining information, much of it of disputed classification?

One thing’s clear: whether to make political hay or out of genuine concern about the Administration leaks, Congress is honing in on how many of these leaks were authorized and whether DOJ investigated the unauthorized ones. Granted, the most interesting results here remain classified (let’s see whether the 10 committees and subcommittees can withstand the temptation of leaking a classified report on leaking).

But it does begin to show that the Administration that has accused more leakers of “espionage” than all others combined itself leaks far more sensitive information.

(h/t Steven Aftergood who first reported on the IG Report)

The Government Once Again Harrasses Others to Hide Its Own Failures

This is a post I could have written (in fact, I think I did here, here, here, and here). One difference, however, is that the author of this post is a government insider, State Department Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren.

The State Department and its Bureau of Diplomatic Security never took responsibility for their part in the loss of all those [WikiLeak] cables, never acknowledged their own mistakes or porous security measures. No one will ever be fired at State because of WikiLeaks — except, at some point, possibly me. Instead, State joined in the Federal mugging of Army Private Bradley Manning, the person alleged to have copied the cables onto a Lady Gaga CD while sitting in the Iraqi desert.

That all those cables were available electronically to everyone from the Secretary of State to a lowly Army private was the result of a clumsy post-9/11 decision at the highest levels of the State Department to quickly make up for information-sharing shortcomings. Trying to please an angry Bush White House, State went from sharing almost nothing to sharing almost everything overnight. They flung their whole library onto the government’s classified intranet, SIPRnet, making it available to hundreds of thousands of Federal employees worldwide. It is usually not a good idea to make classified information that broadly available when you cannot control who gets access to it outside your own organization. The intelligence agencies and the military certainly did no such thing on SIPRnet, before or after 9/11.

State did not restrict access. If you were in, you could see it all. There was no safeguard to ask why someone in the Army in Iraq in 2010 needed to see reporting from 1980s Iceland. Even inside their own organization, State requires its employees to “subscribe” to classified cables by topic, creating a record of what you see and limiting access by justifiable need. A guy who works on trade issues for Morocco might need to explain why he asked for political-military reports from Chile.

Another difference is that Van Buren is being harassed because he included a link from his blog to some cables describing the US dealing weapons to Moammar Qaddafi, including this account of John McCain and Lindsey Graham sucking up to the dictator.

The more amusing cable is from August 2009, just two short years ago. It recounts the visit to Libya of Congressional super heroes John McCain,Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. The boys had a nice visit with Qaddafi and his son it seems. The cable notes “Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends.” Old Man McCain assured his hosts “that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its security. He stated that he understood Libya’s requests regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C-130s and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress. He described the bilateral military relationship as strong and pointed to Libyan officer training at U.S. Command, Staff, and War colleges as some of the best programs for Libyan military participation.”

The cable continued to say that “Qadhafi commented that friendship was better for the people of both countries and expressed his desire to see the relationship flourish. He thanked the Senators for their visit and described America as a race rather than a nationality, explaining that many Libyans are dual citizens because they were born in the United States. Senators McCain and Graham conveyed the U.S. interest in continuing the progress of the bilateral relationship and pledged to try to resolve the C-130 issue with Congress and Defense Secretary Gates.”

And whereas in my posts on the government’s overreaction to WikiLeaks, I focused on DOD’s hypocrisy on assigning all of the blame for a massive security breach to Bradley Manning in spite of its own rank incompetence keeping its networks safe, Van Buren rehearses the State Department’s past failures to keep their data safe.

Over the years, State has leaked like an old boot. One of its most hilarious security breaches took place when an unknown person walked into the Secretary of State’s outer office and grabbed a pile of classified documents. From the vast trove of missing classified laptops to bugging devices found in its secure conference rooms, from high ranking officials trading secrets in Vienna to top diplomats dallying with spies in Taiwan, even the publicly available list is long and ugly.

[snip]

Then again, history shows that technical security is just not State’s game, which means the Wikileaks uproar is less of a surprise in context. For example,in 2006, news reports indicated that State’s computer systems were massively hacked by Chinese computer geeks.  In 2008, State data disclosures led to an identity theft scheme only uncovered through a fluke arrest by the Washington D.C. cops.  Before it was closed down in 2009, snooping on private passport records was a popular intramural activity at the State Department, widely known and casually accepted.  In 2011, contractors using fake identities appear to have downloaded 250,000 internal medical records of State Department employees, including mine.

[snip]

Diplomatic Security famously took into custody the color slides reproduced in the Foreign Service Journal showing an open copy of one of the Government’s most sensitive intelligence documents, albeit only after the photos were published and distributed in the thousands. Similarly DS made it a crime to take photos of the giant U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, but only after the architecture firm building it posted sketches of the Embassy online; a Google search will still reveal many of those images; others who served in Iraq have posted them on their unsecured Facebook pages

Finally, though, there’s the big difference. State is threatening to take away Van Buren’s security clearance, which would amount to firing a successful Foreign Service Officer for a few links to WikiLeaks cables widely available elsewhere.

Secrecy News just posted a Congressional Research Service report written on WikiLeaks type leaks. As SN has previously reported, CRS researchers aren’t allowed to refer to the WL cables, not even for their reports.

“Add me to the list of grumblers,” said a respected national security analyst at the Congressional Research Service, where employees have been prohibited from accessing WikiLeaks documents online.

“This whole thing is so [expletive] stupid,” he said yesterday. “Even staff with clearances can’t read the cables, let alone quote them. One reason is that we can’t read classified materials on unclassified computers and we have no classified computers.”

“We can now quote news stories which cite the cables, but we have no way of verifying whether the article correctly quotes the cables.”

“This is hampering CRS work and management knows it,” the analyst said.  “There’s just no leadership on this issue.”

The rule, in the case of this recent report, results in the absurdity of long footnotes citing news articles, but never once citing an actual WL cable.

16 State’s Secrets, NY TIMES (online edition), Nov. 29, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/world/statessecrets.html. According to the Guardian, the fact that most of the cables are dated from 2008 to 2009 is explained by the increase in the number of U.S. embassies linked to the military’s secure computer network, SIPRNet, over the past decade. See The US embassy cables, GUARDIAN (UK), http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/nov/29/wikileaks-cables-data.
17 Scott Shane and Andrew W. Lehren, Cables Obtained by WikiLeaks Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels, NY TIMES.
18 The Guardian states that the earliest of the cables is from 1966. See The US embassy cables, supra footnote 16.

Not to mention a CRS report the very first sentence of which makes a demonstrably false statement.

The online publication of classified defense documents and diplomatic cables by the organization WikiLeaks and subsequent reporting by The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), and Der Spiegel (Germany), among others, have focused attention on whether such publication violates U.S. criminal law. [my emphasis]

The Iraq cables were published simultaneously, and except for the recent dump of everything, the State cables were published by the newspapers before WL published them.

This continuing game–the persecution of insiders for non-serious leaks while sanctioned leaks to Bob Woodward or General’s kids go un-investigated, the preference for the error and inanity of this CRS report over actual information–is getting really pathetic. It makes us dysfunctional as a country, preventing real discussion and therefore sound decision making, while we’re not doing the bureaucratic things to keep our secrets safe from our actual enemies. And all the while, efforts of people like Van Buren to tell us what a catastrophe our Iraq project really was get punished.

Obama Pretends the Bob Woodward Law Doesn’t Exist

Yesterday, Michael Whitney pointed out how irresponsible it was for the ultimate commander of all the people who will decide Bradley Manning’s innocence or guilt to state publicly, before his trial, that “he broke the law.” But there was something else wrong with it. As transcribed by the UK Friends of Bradley Manning, Obama said,

OBAMA: So people can have philosophical views [about Bradley Manning] but I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source [basis]… That’s not how the world works.

And if you’re in the military… And I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to release material I weren’t allowed to, I’d be breaking the law.

We’re a nation of laws! We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.

[Q: Didn’t he release evidence of war crimes?]

OBAMA: What he did was he dumped

[Q: Isn’t that just the same thing as what Daniel Ellsberg did?]

OBAMA: No it wasn’t the same thing. Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way. [my emphasis]

But of course, Presidents (and some Vice Presidents) actually don’t have to “abide by certain rules of classified information.” As explained by John Rizzo in the context of the Obama Administration’s leaks to Bob Woodward, they can and do insta-declassify stuff for their own political purposes all the time. They can do it to make the President look important; they can do it to lie us into an illegal war; they can do it to ruin the career of someone who might expose the earlier lies. (Steven Aftergood and Eugene Fidell explain the legal reason this is true for the Politico.)

The way secrecy in this country works is insidious not just because the government prevents citizens from learning the things we as citizens need to know to exercise democracy, but also because the President and other classification authorities can wield secrecy as an instrument of power, choosing to release information they otherwise claim is top secret when it serves their political purpose. As I pointed out last year, this power even extends to information about whether or not the President has approved assassinating an American citizen.

Less than a month ago, the Obama Administration told a judge they didn’t have to–couldn’t–tell a judge their basis for killing a US citizen. Instead, they invoked state secrets, claiming (among other things) they couldn’t even confirm or deny whether they had targeted Anwar al-Awlaki for assassination.

Yet this came after one after another Obama Administration official leaked the news that al-Awlaki had been targeted, and after they had obliquely confirmed that he was. The Administration can leak news of this targeting all it wants, apparently, but when a US citizen attempts to get protection under the law, then it becomes a state secret.

There’s a lot of other reasons why this President’s claim that “we are a nation of laws!” is utterly laughable, from his Administration’s refusal to prosecute torture or bank fraud to its efforts to prevent former officials from doing time for breaking the law.

We are not, anymore, a nation of laws. The Constitutional Professor President has institutionalized the efforts W and Cheney made to make sure that remains true.

But one of the ways our lawlessness most disproportionately works against the citizens of this country is the government’s abuse of secrecy.

Liar Calls Access Journalist a Pot

Even before Tom Ricks handed his blog over to Bob Woodward to rip Donald Rumsfeld a new asshole, Ricks shared this quote from H.R. Haldeman about Rummy as a way to introduce Rummy’s dismissal of Ricks’ Fiasco and Woodward’s books.

So in my research on the Vietnam War I was paging through H.R. Haldeman’s diaries to see what he says about General Creighton Abrams and was surprised to come across his comment about a former defense secretary we all know: “typical Rumsfeld, rather slimy maneuver.” (657)

As Ricks said, pot, kettle.

But proving there is no honor among thieves (and that you can’t use too many cliches before noon), Rummy has now hit back at Woodward.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff accused Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward on Tuesday of practicing “access journalism,”  and said that Woodward has been repeatedly accused of “tilting the facts,”  “misleading remarks,” “disingenuous statements,” and placing “book sales above journalism.”

Keith Urbahn, who is also Rumsfeld’s official spokesperson, made the accusations in a statement to reporters in response to Woodward’s scathing critique of Rumsfeld’s recently released memoir, Known and Unknown.

[snip]

Urbahn accused Woodward of favoring his sources and granting them anonymity in exchange for access, while pushing his own storyline ahead of the facts.

“The well known story about Bob Woodward is that he practices what is derided as ‘access journalism,’ whereby he favors those who provide him with information and gossip and leak against their colleagues,” he said in a statement, which was also posted on Rumsfeld’s Facebook page. “Those who refuse to play along, such as Donald Rumsfeld, then pay the price.”

Another cliche: “I’m rubber and you’re glue…”

Now, as I suggested yesterday, for all of Woodward’s faults, I was floored when I saw how meticulously Woodward kept his notes as exhibited at the Libby trial. Plus, his post yesterday was really well documented. Not to mention we all know Rummy’s a pathological liar.

So I’m really just sharing Rummy’s response because I am loving watching these crotchety old Nixon-era zombies go after each other.

Plus, I secretly have my fingers crossed that Cheney will join in any moment now.

Bob Woodward, Blogger

Let me just say, without qualification, that of the high profile journalists whose techniques were discussed or entered as evidence in the Scooter Libby trial, Bob Woodward had the best note taking. Judy Miller, Matt Cooper, Bob Novak, Andrea Mitchell (and, I’m sure, Marcy Wheeler)? They all were put to shame by Bob Woodward’s exactitude and organization in the way he recorded his interactions with government officials.

Which is why I find it so amusing to see Woodward take to Tom Ricks’ blog to rip Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir to pieces. Woodward knows he has the documentation to back up his critique and he cites the notes of his October 23, 2003 and July 7-8, 2006 interviews with Rummy in detail. Here’s the cattiest example:

Near the end of the Oct. 23, 2003 interview — page 39 of my transcript — this interchange took place, illustrating the worst and the best of him:

Rumsfeld: “And you lie, you told people I stuck a finger in your chest. I never stuck a finger in your chest.”

Woodward: “Yes, sir, yes, yes.”

Rumsfeld: “I never touched your chest.”

Woodward: “I swear you did.”

Rumsfeld: “Did I?”

Woodward: “Yeah, you did.”

Rumsfeld: “Physically?”

Woodward: “You did, physically, it wasn’t hostile you were illustrating a point.”

Rumsfeld: “Good.”

Woodward: “I explained that. I thought you scored a very good point.”

Rumsfeld: (laughter)

Woodward: “Which was about surprise and off balance.”

Rumsfeld: “Oh yes, I did. I remember that you’re right …Yeah, right, you are right …I said you got to get a little off balance — I’ve done that. He’s right, I’m wrong.”

He had moved from calling me a liar to acknowledging that my memory was correct and his wrong. He probably should have been more tentative at both the front end and the back end, but there it was, Rumsfeld in full.

Meanwhile, Woodward exposes Rummy’s own inconsistent claims about his notes.

“I don’t have notes,” Rumsfeld insisted. “I don’t have any notes.”  His memoir cites his personal handwritten notes dozens of time.

Sure, Woodward does this, in part, to ensure no one questions the accuracy of his own books as authoritative narratives of–among other things–the timeline leading up to the Iraq war. He also seems, in part, to be protecting Bush.

And sure, there are tidbits where the old Woodward shines through, even in his own self-reporting.

On January 9, 2002, four months after 9/11, Dan Balz of The Washington Post and I interviewed Rumsfeld for a newspaper series on the Bush administration’s response to 9/11. According to notes of the NSC, on September 12, the day after 9/11, Rumsfeld again raised Iraq saying, is there a need to address Iraq as well as bin Laden?

When Balz read this to Rumsfeld, he blew up. “I didn’t say that,” he said, maintaining that it was his aide Larry DiRita talking over his shoulder. His reaction was comic and we agreed to treat it as off the record. But Balz persisted and asked Rumsfeld what he was thinking. [bold original; underline emphasis mine]

But I gotta say, for a newbie blogger, Woodward sure took the medium.

Abbe Lowell’s Leak as Governance Theory

Josh Gerstein links to this fascinating filing from Abbe Lowell, the lawyer who successfully got leak charges against AIPAC employees dismissed, and now representing a former State Department contractor, Stephen Kim, alleged to have leaked Top Secret information on North Korea to Fox. Gerstein explains:

Stephen Kim, who worked at State as an intelligence adviser before being dismissed as a result of the leak probe, was indicted last August on one count of disclosing classified information and another of lying to the FBI. The charges appear to stem from information that Fox News reporter James Rosen received in June 2009 about North Korea’s plans to conduct a nuclear test.

In motions filed earlier this week, Kim’s defense team, Abbe Lowell, Paul Thompson and James Commons, argue that the charges against Kim should be dismissed because they’re legally flawed. One argument is that the Espionage Act under which Kim was charged is too vague when it comes to situations involving verbal statements to someone outside government rather than giving classified documents to someone. (Kim was not charged with espionage.)

The defense lawyers also mount a defense of leaking as routine and vital to modern American government and note that the law gives no indication of who is “entitled to receive” closely-held defense secrets and who isn’t.

The last bit is what I find particularly interesting. Lowell is obviously doubling down on his successful defense in the AIPAC case by arguing that leaking classified information is central to our system of governance.

Government leaking is not a new phenomenon. What makes these prosecutions particularly worthy of close scrutiny is the fact that the Executive Branch leaks classified information often to forward several of its goals and then prosecutes others in the same branch for doing the same thing. In fact, this country has a long and storied history of government officials leaking information to the press. In one of the earliest leaks in this country s history, Benjamin Franklin publicly confessed to leaking letters authored by loyalist Thomas Hutchinson which were later published in the Boston Gazette. 5 Albert Henry Smyth The Writings of Benjamin Franklin 448 (1905). President George Washington was incensed upon discovering that the confidential terms of Jay’s Treaty had been leaked to a newspaper editor. Todd Estes The Art of Presidential Leadership: George Washington and the Jay Treaty, 109 Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (2001). In one of the most storied leaks in history, the New York Times published sections of the so-called “Pentagon Papers ” a top-secret Department of Defense report on America s political and military involvement in Vietnam. Neil Sheehan Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement, N.Y. Times June 13, 1971 , at A1. The leak revealed a deliberate pattern of government deception to mislead the country about the government’s intentions to expand the war efforts in Vietnam. Id The Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal is another example of a leak that called into question important policies the government had tried to keep secret. Seymour M. Hersh, Torture at Abu Ghraib, The New Yorker, May 10, 2004, at 42. And the disclosure of Valerie Plame as an operative for the CIA was a government leak, at the highest levels, to advance an important policy interest of the Bush Administration. David Corn Plamegate Finale: We Were Right; They Were Wrong, The Nation (Oct. 22, 2007). In this country s history, sensitive information has routinely been leaked to the press by officials at all levels of government, causing New York Times reporter James Reston to remark, “[t] ship of state is the only known vessel that leaks from the top.” David E. Rosenbaum, First a Leak, Then a Predictable Pattern, N.Y. Times, October 3 2003.

The practice of leaking has evolved over time and has become so widespread that it is not uncommon to open a national newspaper and find multiples articles attributing their sensitive content to anonymous government sources. During meetings with the press, government offcials and members of their staffs routinely disclose sensitive information to further a variety of legitimate policy objectives. Members of the press then publish the information for consumption by the populace. As the government has imposed ever-more stringent restrictions on information, while simultaneously broadening its definition of what constitutes classified information, leaking has become essential to provide context for messages delivered to the public through official channels. Although reliance on a “leak system” is counterintuitive for a nation that prides itself on open government and places immense value on democratic traditions, it has become a necessary practice, facilitating the exchange of information between the government and its constituency. Read more

CIA Sues over Whistleblower Book

Jeff Stein reports that, after months of rumors this would happen, the CIA has sued Ishmael Jones for publishing The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture without approval from CIA’s review board.

The Justice Department suit, on behalf of the spy agency, seeks “an injunction against any further violations of ‘Jones’ secrecy obligations and recovery of the proceeds from the unauthorized publication.”

It cited as precedent Snepp vs. United States, the 1980 Supreme Court decision against former CIA officer Frank Snepp that validated the agency requirement that employees submit their writings for approval as a fiduciary obligation.

As a result of the decision, the government was able to seize Snepp’s profits from the book. Snepp subsequently wrote a second book, “Irreparable Harm: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle Over Free Speech,” which was cleared by the agency.

Like Snepp, whose memoir “Decent Interval” harshly criticized CIA activities at the end of the Vietnam War, Jones maintains that his book contained “no classified information.”

He said he used a pseudonym because “I was under deep cover for most of my career, so to use my real name might expose people I’ve met.”

Publishing the book without approval was necessitated because “there are no viable whistleblower mechanisms within the CIA,” he said.

I guess, unlike Bob Woodward, Jones is one of the people whom the President won’t allow to leak secrets.

Rule of Law Has Broken Down for Secrets, Just Like Everything Else

Michael Isikoff takes a story Jack Goldsmith already treated and raises the logical conclusions. As I noted, Jack Goldsmith asked John Rizzo why it was that Woodward could publish the proceedings of a briefing from which even top Obama officials–like John Podesta–were excluded. Rizzo responded,

Simple. When a President himself is a key source and directs or at least signals to his Administration to cooperate with the author, that for all intents and purposes means the book becomes one big authorized disclosure. That’s what Obama did for Woodward, and that’s what Bush did for Woodward in his three books during that Administration, which also were packed with hitherto sensitive information. That’s what is remarkable and unique about Woodward’s standing.

Isikoff notes the same passage Goldsmith did and asks,

How can they credibly prosecute mid-level bureaucrats and junior military officers for leaking classified information to the press when so many high-level officials have dished far more sensitive secrets to Woodward?

He focuses closely on the case of Stephen Jin-Wood Kim whom the Obama Administration is prosecuting for leaking info on North Korea to Fox’s James Rosen.

Kim was indicted in August on charges he leaked classified information about North Korea’s nuclear intentions to James Rosen, a correspondent for FOX News.

Abbe Lowell, who got a couple of AIPAC officials cleared after threatening to show how they had only passed on information that people like Condi had already leaked to the press, is the lawyer asking this question.

Aside from the undercurrent, which seems to be asking why John Bolton’s buddies can’t politically leak information like Bolton used to when he was at State (and, implicitly, why AIPAC can’t leak information the President’s aides can), Isikoff is right.

But he misses the even bigger double standard (and of course doesn’t mention Dick Cheney’s orders to Scooter Libby to leak Valerie Plame’s identity to one of the designated reporters for these leaks, Judy Miller, which seems to be a notable example of this intentional leaking).

Less than a month ago, the Obama Administration told a judge they didn’t have to–couldn’t–tell a judge their basis for killing a US citizen. Instead, they invoked state secrets, claiming (among other things) they couldn’t even confirm or deny whether they had targeted Anwar al-Awlaki for assassination.

Yet this came after one after another Obama Administration official leaked the news that al-Awlaki had been targeted, and after they had obliquely confirmed that he was. The Administration can leak news of this targeting all it wants, apparently, but when a US citizen attempts to get protection under the law, then it becomes a state secret.

Now, Isikoff quotes some White House official denying that this kind of double standard exists.

Asked for comment, a White House official told NBC News: “The president is upset about the leak of any sensitive information to any pubic sources, and that includes sensitive information in the Woodward book. In fact, you’ll note that he explicitly refused to address classified matters with Mr. Woodward, even though he was asked about them.”

‘Unclassified gossip’

The official also disputed that the disclosures in the Woodward book might complicate the administration’s anti-leak crackdown. “Leaks are leaks and leaks of classified national security information are crimes. They are not less criminal because there are also leaks to Bob Woodward,” though the official contended that much of the “sensational” disclosures in Woodward’s book were “unclassified gossip about staff differences.”

As for claims of a double standard: the official stated: “There is no double standard. The administration opposes all leaks of classified information.” The official further said President Obama “certainly did not authorize” his aides to share share classified information with Woodward.

But (as Isikoff notes) DOJ is not investigating any of the intentional leaks in Woodward’s books, just as the Obama Administration went to some lengths to protect the Cheney and Bush transcripts that make it clear that they were ordering classified leaks for political gain.

You see, in addition to reserving the decision for itself of who gets prosecuted or not for fraud on courts and torture, the Administration is also arbitrarily choosing who gets prosecuted for leaks.

Woodward’s Secrets

Jeebus: Goldsmith may be getting a hang of this blogging thing, but I’m not: John Rizzo, not John Brennan. So the stuff I originally said about Brennan doesn’t make any sense.

I may not always agree with Jack Goldsmith, but he’s getting a hang of this blogging thing. Today, he posts the answer John Brennan gave him to the question of how Bob Woodward got very specific details of a meeting that a number of Obama’s top advisors had to leave because they didn’t have the appropriate clearance.

The first Chapter of Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars describes Barack Obama’s first post-election intelligence briefing from Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, on November 6, 2008.  The chapter shows McConnell, at the direction of President Bush, excluding many Obama aides (including Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta and former Deputy National Security Advisor James Steinberg) from the briefing.  Because the briefing contained highly classified information about “sources and methods,” McConnell explained, only those “designated to take a top national security cabinet post” could attend.   Woodward then recounts this highly classified intelligence briefing in great detail, including several highly classified CIA and NSA programs, and their code names.

After reading this chapter, I wondered how a meeting involving classified information so sensitive that a close Obama aide and former top national security official could not attend could the following year be recounted in such loving detail in the first chapter of a best-selling book.  Woodward clearly got his information from participants in the meeting or their close aides.  Was it right for these people to speak to Woodward about these matters?  Was it legal?  I sent these questions to John Rizzo, the just-retired thirty-four year veteran CIA lawyer who has seen his share of leaked classified information over the years.

John responded:

Simple.  When a President himself is a key source and directs or at least signals to his Administration to cooperate with the author, that for all intents and purposes means the book becomes one big authorized disclosure. That’s what Obama did for Woodward, and that’s what Bush did for Woodward in his three books during that Administration, which also were packed with hitherto sensitive information.  That’s what is remarkable and unique about Woodward’s standing.

Now, Goldsmith appears offended that Obama and Bush would treat classified information so lightly.

Me, I’m more interested in what this says about Woodward’s (and, while we’re talking about it, Judy Miller’s) position in the information management function.

John Brennan–a guy who oversaw targeting for Cheney’s illegal wiretap program and therefore presumably had the highest clearance in two Administrations–lackadaisically says that if the President wants something leaked, it becomes legal to leak it.

In Judy Miller’s case, we saw how this selective leaking ensured the Administration could declassify its politicized case for war, while ensuring those who disputed the case were kept silent under threat of prosecution.

Woodward is even more interesting. Woodward knew to ask certain pointed questions of Richard Armitage–the same questions, as it turns out, that Bob Novak asked to elicit information about Valerie Plame’s purported role in Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger. But according to John Brennan, at least, even if Richard Armitage leaked Plame’s role intentionally, it would not be illegal. And remember, too, that on July 8 or 9 (this is reflected in notes introduced at trial; you’ll have to take my word for it though, because I don’t have my records with me), the VP’s office did give Woodward detailed information about the Iraq NIE. In other words, we know Woodward was a part of the OVP’s strategy for rebutting Joe Wilson in what was effectively a political hit.

More generally, though, consider what this suggests about the excuse that Cheney was prepared to use for having ordered the leak of Plame’s identity. John Brennan, at least, argues that if the President “signals to his Administration” that he wants certain information out there, it’s legal to leak it. I don’t necessarily buy that, mind you.

But it suggests one of Obama’s key advisors buys off on the idea that it’s cool for the President to selectively declassify information (you know, like leaks to the press about targeting Anwar al-Awlaki, even if you later invoke state secrets about it) for political gain.