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One dangerous feller: Senator wants no secrets

By Daniel Clark
web posted March 6, 2006

When Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D, W.Va.) accused President Bush of endangering America by releasing classified information, most conservatives simply laughed him off. That's certainly an understandable reaction, since Rockefeller accusing others of leaking government secrets is a little like his state's other senator, Robert Byrd, telling somebody to get to the point. The tactic behind this absurdity, however, is something that's got to be taken seriously.

In a February 17th letter to Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, Rockefeller wrote, "Given the administration's continuing abuse of intelligence information for political purposes, its criticism of leaks is extraordinarily hypocritical." This is a reference to the speech the president gave, in which he detailed a 2002 al-Qaida hijacking plot against the Library Tower in Los Angeles. "The president and other senior members must set an example for others to follow," the letter continued.

How convenient, that he should lay all disclosures of classified information at the president's feet. That must mean that Rockefeller, along with fellow Democrat senators Dick Durbin and Ron Wyden, were not responsible for leaking details of a secret CIA satellite program to the Washington Post, which they did in 2004. They outed the program in an effort to kill it, supposedly because it was too expensive. Leave it to a group of Democrat senators to wait until our national security is at stake to have a sudden attack of frugality.

The CIA has prodded the Justice Department to investigate the senators, which must be one of the things that Rockefeller finds hypocritical. Get it? Since the president "leaks" secrets himself, then the executive branch has no right to hold Democrats accountable for warning our enemies about our latest spy technology.

For the senator to characterize the president's revealing a foiled terror plot as a "leak" is nonsensical. Those agencies within the executive branch that designate information as classified are subordinate to the president, who is the Chief Executive, as well as Commander-in-Chief. One Democrat who recognizes this is Rockefeller's colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who explained, "The president is entitled to release whatever he wants to release. He owns the intelligence. The president is the owner of the intelligence and then he makes the decision on what to share."

That said, the president does have a duty not to release any information that could be used against us. That's why he had to go all the way back to 2002 to find an example. There have undoubtedly been plots hatched more recently, but President Bush is not about to discuss details that his advisors tell him might jeopardize ongoing anti-terror efforts.

A legislator, on the other hand, is not the owner of the intelligence, is not at liberty to discuss classified information with the press, and has not had his information vetted by security experts before he discloses it. For Rockefeller to try to shed his own responsibility by charging Bush with hypocrisy suggests delusions of grandeur on the senator's part, in that he imagines his role and that of the president to be equal.

When the National Security Agency's anti-terror surveillance program was leaked to the New York Times, Sen. Rockefeller was predictably furious -- with President Bush. "Our counterterrorism programs are too important to the country to allow them to be undermined by weak legal underpinnings," he complained. He apparently didn't save any outrage for the undermining of our counterterrorism programs by the blatantly illegal spilling of secrets to the Times.

There may be a good reason for that. The American Spectator reports in its "Washington Prowler" section that a federal investigation into the NSA leak is focusing on the staffs of Senators Durbin and Rockefeller. That probe reportedly also encompasses the story, leaked to the Washington Post, of secret overseas prisons, where high-level al-Qaida figures are believed to be held.

If Rockefeller is directly implicated in these leaks, not only would it be unsurprising, but it would fit into his already established pattern of behavior. This is the same Jay Rockefeller who, last November, told Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace, "I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq, that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9-11."

That was only his opinion, of course, but how must the Baathists in Damascus have taken it, when a member of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee went galloping through the desert like the Paul Revere of Arabia, shouting "The Yankees are coming, The Yankees are coming"?

The obvious speculation, then, is that Sen. Rockefeller is lashing out at the president in order to nullify his own misdeeds, by accusing his enemy of a comparable offense. However, there appears to be more to it than that. His accusation that Bush is being hypocritical could be used to justify leaks of vital intelligence in the future, as well as the past. The argument goes something like this: If President Bush uses classified information for a purpose he thinks is right, like keeping
Americans vigilant in the War on Terror, then a "whistleblower" like Rockefeller should also be able to use classified information to do what he thinks is right, like alerting the media to "abuses" of "civil liberties."

What Rockefeller is challenging is the very concept of wartime secrecy. To him, the owner of the intelligence is whomever possesses it, and he demands every scrap he can get his hands on. With people like him in Washington, one of the few secrets left in town is what in the world he's doing on the Intelligence Committee in the first place.

Daniel Clark is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

 

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