Monday, February 28, 2005

They'd Rather Not Watch

From our Kick 'Em When They're Down Department, some of Dan Rather's CBS colleagues have some unkind words for the departing anchor.

The Dan Speaks

Passing through the Dallas-Ft Worth Airport Sunday afternoon, I noticed the serene (some might say smug) visage of Dan Rather, staring at me from a magazine cover.

Less than two weeks before he vacate the anchor chair on the CBS Evening News, "The Dan" (as Bernard Goldberg calls him) is gracing the cover of Texas Monthly. Apparently, the magazine scored one of the seven print interviews Rather has granted to various print journalists.

Against my better judgement, I plunked down $4.95 for the magazine, and read the interview on a flight to LA. On the whole, the interview is a colossal waste of space and newsprint; in the course of 7,5000 senior editor Gary Cartwright reveals absolutely nothing new about "America's most political journalist," and the Memogate scandal that hastened his departure from the Evening News.

At times, the profile reads more like a CBS press release than a serious profile of a powerful journalist. Consider this sample from Cartwright's intro:

"For 24 years, he has anchored and served as managing editor of the
Evening News, while also reporting segements for 48 Hours (which he
pioneered) , and both the Sunday and Wednesday editions of 60
doing a radio commentary five days a week and writing a
syndicated newspaper column--not counting being the lead man for breaking
news...just writing that sentence makes me dizzy."
It's no suprise that Rather, still smarting from the Thornburgh Report, would grant interviews to sympathetic journalists--and Cartwright certainly fills the bill. But, to borrow a "Ratherism," even a blind hog finds a few acorns, and Cartwright manages to give us a few glimpes of the Real Dan, from time to time. Consider this comment, just moments into the interview, as The Dan announces that Memogate (and its aftermath) are off-limits.

"I'm not going to revisit it," he says. The panel report is what it
is. I've read it. I've absorbed it. I will carry it with me in
the future. It was a process that resulted in four good people losing
their jobs. My reaction is one of great sadness."
Rather never expresses sadness nor regret for the real victims of his fraudulent report, namely the late Lt. Col Jerry B. Killian, the Texas Air National Guard officer who supposedly authored those infamous memos, challenging key aspects of President Bush's guard service. Ditto for the family of Lt. Col Killian, forced to defend his honor and integrity more than 20 years after his death.

Instead, readers are treated to a lengthy recitation of Rather's long career, interspersed with glowing tributes from his CBS colleagues (more on that later). Near the end of the profile, Cartwright announces that Rather "is still hugely popular among the rank and file at CBS's a testament to his popularity that no one at CBS blamed Rather for the Memogate fallout. Hmm...I guess Mr. Cartwright was too busy to contact Bernie Goldberg, Ed Rabel, or other former CBS staffers, forced out because they crossed The Dan.

Still, there are a couple of fascinating insights in the piece. At one point, Rather opines that he became a target for conservatives because (get this) he works for CBS News. "There is a line running back to Murrow's coverage of Joe McCarthy," he observes. In other words, the (largely) conservative bloggers who exposed Memogate as a scam were little more than tools in a 50-year, right-wing conspiracy to "get" the House that Murrow Built. Never mind that most of the bloggers who exposed Rather's fraud weren't even around in the 1950s, nor that their critiques were based in factual evidence that CBS could never refute. Dan can see the connection between the McCarthyites and the bloggers, and that's all that really matters. Cartwright--predictably--never challenges such lunatic assertions.

Rather apologists also put in an appearence, attempting to spin an innocent explanation for Memogate. Bob Schieffer, who will succeed Rather in the CBS anchor chair, suggests that Dan was overworked--"they made him the logo of CBS." But Schieffer conveniently ignores the contributions of "superstar" producer Mary Mapes, who pursued the Bush story for more than four years. Cartwright also bothers to explore the role Rather played in rushing the story to the air. The Dan, who styles himself a serious and careful journalist--appeared to have few trepidations about getting the segment aired, only one month before the Presidential election.

Others offer a more curious defense, citing the "myopic zeal" of the CBS team to get the story out and beat the competition. With ratings lagging at CBS, Cartwright explains, there was strong pressure to develop blockbuster stories that might attract a larger audience. He also notes that Rather and Mapes were forced to play their hunches and got burned, a necessar risk in what he calls the "black art" of investigative journalism.

Time out. Earlier in his life, The Former Spook worked as both a print and broadcast journalist, so he knows something about the "black art." Zeal and passion for a story are fine, but Cartwright ignores the fundamental issues that prompted Memogate and its aftermath. Why did CBS News--and its star anchor--direct so much zeal towards the Bush story, while ignoring legitimate questions about the military service of Senator John Kerry, and largely dismissed those concerns, even after they were raised by Swiftboat Veterans for Truth? Mapes and Rather spared no effort to locate the alleged Bush memos, but they never bothered to ask Senator Kerry why he never signed a DD Form 180, making all of his military records available for public inspection.

As most Americans know, without balance or fairness, journalistic zeal is little more than a media vendetta, which is how Memogate will be rightfully remembered. I'll be charitable and say Dan Rather was once a tenacious and even courageous reporter, but somewhere between his salad days in Houston and the anchor chair at CBS, something changed. The Dan became a Machiavellian, even Nixonian character, supposedly persecuted by dark and sinister forces.

For a final benedictory on the departing CBS anchor, I'll turn to the words of Alexander Kendrick, whom Dan replaced at the network's London bureau in the mid-1960s. Kendrick was one of Murrow's Boys, a decidedly un-telegenic figure, but, in the words of CBS News historian Gary Paul Gates, a learned and cultured man who embodied Murrow's ideal of a "scholar-correspondent." Upon meeting the young Texan, Kendrick referred to Rather as a "child of television" (a characterization Rather protested), before adding: "What I will be interested to see is whether you have any g--d-m-ed sense."

Almost 40 years later, the answer to that one seems clear.

P.S.--The current issue of Texas Monthly provides another, ironic comment on Rather and his scandal, through a special advertising section, in the front of the magazine. The section touts the newly-named Schieffer School of Journalism at Texas Christian University, named for Rather's CBS colleague. On the last page of the section, the Schieffer School lists its credo: "Ethical. Professional. Responsible."--the very qualities missing in Rather's fraudulent 60 Minutes report.

Wonder if it's too late for The Dan to sign up for a refresher course?

Pardon the Interruption

Your humble correspondent has been on the road for almost a week, thanks to a last-minute business trip and a long-planned personal vacation. Without a laptop, my blogging opportunities have been limited. However, I will be checking in from time to time, during my journey to the Left Coast and the Heart of Dixie. In the meantime, keep the e-mails coming, to

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

We Agree, But...

President Bush has concluded his meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the latest stop on what the mainstream media likes to describe as a "fence-mending tour" of Europe. As expected, Mr. Bush and Mr. Schroeder spent most of their time discussing Iran's nuclear program, and the threat it poses to global security. Both leaders stated firmly that Iran should not have nuclear weapons. But the U.S. and Germany still have different ideas over the best way to deter Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Mr. Schroeder wants to entice the Iranians to give up their uranium enrichment program, offering such "carrots" as possible membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). the German Chancellor also favors continuation of diplomatic talks between Iran and the European nations (Great Britian, France and Germany) that began last fall.

President Bush, by comparison, favors a tougher approach. While supporting diplomatic efforts, the President seems squarely against any rewards for Iran. As he noted today, Tehran needs to be held accountable for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (by enriching uranium), and its sponsorship of terrorist oganizations, notably Hizballah.

Haven't we been down this road before? In 1994, the U.S. and South Korea offered incentives for North Korea to give up its nuclear program, part of the "Agreed-to Framework" negotiated by none other than Jimmy Carter. The results? North Korea continued a covert nuclear program that allowed them to expand their arsenal. Meanwhile, the food and oil delivered by the U.S. and South Korea bolstered the logistical stockpiles of Kim Jong-il's military. More than a decade later, the Korean Peninsula is (arguably) a more dangerous place than ever, thanks to an ill-conceived rewards scheme.

President Bush is wise to reject a similar plan to Iran. But Mr. Schroeder's position seems to make another fact clear: if it becomes necessary to take military action against Tehran, most of old Europe will again take a pass.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Band of Brothers

Military service creates a bond that transcends race, class, gender and even nationality. If you doubt that, read this recent article from the Washington Post (yes, that Washington Post). The article was also republished in today's edition of The Early Bird, DOD's daily summary of press articles on the military.

An Iraq Quiz

We are bombarded daily with grim images from Iraq; car bombings, assassinations, wounded American soldiers and Marines. But how bad is it in Iraq? Go to your favorite news sites, get the latest run-down on events in Iraq, then take the following quiz (answers will be provided later this week).

1. How many attacks (or other violent acts) occurred in all of Iraq during the past week (ending 18 February)?

--About 400; less than half the total reported last November, at the height of our operations in Fallujah.

2. Have the number of attacks decreased since the Fallujah offensive and the run-up to the elections? If so, how much of a decrease has occurred?

--Nationwide, down by approximately 40-45%; violence in some regions is down by an even higher margin

3. How many attacks or violent acts typically occur outside the Sunni triangle in a given week?

--Less than 100. Typically, about two-thirds of the violence reported in Iraq occurs inside the Sunni triangle. The rest of Iraq--particularly the Kurdish north and the Shia-controlled south, is relatively peaceful.

4. How many times did enemy gunners attempt to engage coalition aircraft during the past month? How does that compare with the last three months of 2004?

--There were only a half-dozen engagement attempts in January; that's a 50% decrease from last fall.

5. Over the past four months, have the number of vehicle bombs in Iraq increased or decreased? Estimate the percentage of increase or decrease.

--Decreased. By mid-February, the number of car bombs had dropped by at least 35%. That's an indication of more effective tactics by our troops, and improved support from Iraqi civilians, who increasingly report the location of IEDs (and other insurgent activity) to our soldiers..

6. What percentage of all car bombings in Iraq are considered effective, that is, inflicting a minimum amount of casualties and/or damage?

--Less that 18%, as defined by inflicting a minimum amount of damage/casualties.

The Back Channel

Here's another item that received a bit of attention Sunday. According to Time magazine, senior U.S. military and intelligence officials are holding secret talks in Iraq, aimed at ending the Sunni-backed insurgency. The negotiations are reportedly being brokered by a former senior member of Saddam's regime who is now an insurgent leader. "We are ready to work with you," the negotiator told American officials. The Time article indicates that insurgents participating in the talks are not affiliated with terrorist leaader Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, who (presumably) plans to continue the fight.

But the Time report raises some interesting questions. Why are certain Sunni insurgent leaders suddenly willing to talk peace? Judging from recent accounts in the mainstream press, the insurgency in Iraq shows no signs of weakening. Daily images of car bombings, shootings, and infrastructure attacks suggest that coalition military forces are having no effect on the terrorists and their campaign of violence. Why would insurgents--who appear to be winning--suddenly start negotiations with their sworn enemies?

In reality, things aren't going well for the terrorists. A number of al-Zarqawi's top associates have been arrested or killed in recent weeks, suggesting that coalition intelligence has penetrated the organization, or (at the least) has uncovered a treasure-trove of information that offers new insights into the network's key players and operations, making them easier to detect and eliminate.

There are other indications of tough times among the insurgents. The price for stand-off weapons of choice, such as shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, has reportedly doubled in recent months, indicating they are no longer readily available. That will make it more difficult for terrorists to stage high-profile attacks, designed to inflict mass casualties by downing a coalition transport aircraft or helicopter. There are also reports that some insurgents are now using homemade explosives in their car bombs. If true, that's a startling revelation; Saddam's Iraq was literally awash in munitions and explosives, greatly facilitating the manufacture of vehicle bombs and suicide vests that have been used against our troops and Iraqi civilians. Reduced availability of explosives would represent a crippling blow to the insurgents, providing yet another incentive for peace talks.

But the greatest motivation for negotiations occurred at the end of January, when 8 million Iraqis went to the polls. There is a growing realization among certain Sunni elements that the train called The New Iraq is leaving the station, and they're still on the platform, waving at the choo-choo. That point was graphically illustrated in Fallujah last month, when hundreds of Sunni voters showed up at polling places the day after the election. Sunni clerics had warned them to stay away and the terrorists, of course, promised death to anyone who voted. But after watching millions of Kurds and Shia go the polls, some of the Sunnis realized they'd missed the boat, and decided they also wanted to be a part of a democratic Iraq. You can expect a much higher Sunni turn-out in upcoming location elections, and that will translate into reduced support for the insurgency.

Make no mistake; the terrorist network in Iraq is far from defeated. But it has suffered mortal blows at the hands of coalition troops, and more recently, the Iraqi electorate. Convincing Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms would be another serious defeat, and one more sign that the insurgency is slowly losing its grip.

The reality

Are We Winning?

Old habits die hard...after years of military and civil service, I've learned to enjoy a three-day weekend to the fullest, staying away from the office and the computer. However, there were events of note over the Presidents' Day weekend. Here are a couple that caught my eye.

CIA Director Porter Goss was on the Hill late last week, and he cautioned that Al-Qaida remains a serious threat. Within hours, his testimony had morphed into predictable--and slightly misleading--accounts of a resurgent Al-Qaida. True, bin Laden's organization is still a threat to our national security, and we can't discount the possiblity of new attacks against U.S. interests, both at home and abroad.

But the Al-Qaida of early 2005 is not the same organization that comandeered four U.S. jetliners on 9-11 and crashed them into the WTC and Pentagon, delivering a devastating blow to our economy and national psyche. James Dunnigan of has a timely update on the Al-Qaida of today.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bush's Choice

It's official, President Bush has nominated John Negroponte, our current Ambassador to Iraq, to serve as the nation's first Director of National Intelligence, or DNI.

Negroponte, who previously served as our UN Ambassador, is an interesting choice. A career diplomat, Mr. Negroponte has no prior experience in the intelligence community. In announcing the nomination, President Bush observed that Negroponte understands global intelligence needs because of his long career in foreign service. That's a bit like saying he knows how to build a car because he's been driving one for 30 years. Being a long-time consumer of intelligence doesn't necessarily qualify you to lead the IC into the 21st Century. However, Ambassador Negroponte is, by all accounts, an exceptionally bright and able man, who (in the President's words) "understands the power centers in Washington." In other words, he knows right buttons to push to keep the funding turned on.

But the real story in today's announcement lies in President Bush's choice for Deputy Director of National Intelligence: Lieutenant General Mike Hayden, who now serves as Director of the National Security Agency (NSA). As Negroponte's deputy, Hayden will have the difficult job of improving coordination, planning and information sharing among the 15 or so agencies that form the nation's intelligence community. Using a sports metaphor, it's the national security equivalent of a tough double-play; Negroponte, the shortstop, will "field" the mission (transform the IC and serve as the point man for intelligence reform), but Hayden, the second baseman, has to turn the pivot and actually make it happen.

General Hayden is more than up to the challenge. A career Air Force intelligence officer, he is the longest-serving director in NSA history. When he assumed the director's position in 1999, NSA was an agency adrift, badly in need of reform. Over the past six years, he's done many of the things Poter Goss is now attempting at the CIA--getting rid of malcontents and deadwood, and turning to the commercial sector to develop innovative technological solutions for intelligence problems. His selection for a second tour as NSA director is a testament to both his vision and management skills--something he will surely need in his new job.

More than a few spooks--current and former--expressed concern over Negroponte's appointment; afterall, the DNI post should not be an entry-level job. But Hayden's appointment as #2 will go a long way toward alleviating those fears. Together, they could be a very effective team.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Reading the Tea Leaves

There's been a great deal of speculation in recent months about whether Israeli will launch a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The prevailing wisdom, from those "supposedly in the know" goes something like this: Iran's nuclear program, circa 2005, presents a vastly different challenge than Saddam's bomb-making efforts in 1981, when Israeli Air Force F-16s destroyed the Osirak reactor near Baghdad. Iran's nuclear effort is probably de-centralized; a sudden strike against a single target (or a small set of targets) wouldn't have the same effect as the 1981 raid. Additionally, Israel may be willing to give European diplomatic efforts a chance to resolve the crisis, or (alternatively) the Sharon government believes the U.S. take action to keep Tehran from getting the bomb.

All these explanations have at least a kernel of truth, and may ultimately prove accurate. But don't discount the possibilty of Israeli military action. Today's Israel's foreign minister speculated that Iran may have the knowledge required to produce nuclear weapons in as little as six months. It should be noted that "knowledge" doesn't equal a working nuclear device. But the foreign minister's comments suggests that Tel Aviv is viewing the Iranian nuclear program with increasing concern. And, lest we forget, Israel has stated unequivocally that it will never tolerate a nuclear-capable Iran. Today's remarks reflect a widening debate within Israel over the potential Iranian threat, and potential Israeli courses of action. The Begin government took similar steps in 1981, before launching their strike against Saddam's nuclear program.

The Israelis have also noted that there are certain nuclear "red lines" that Tehran will not be allowed to cross. So far, Israeli officials haven't defined those red lines, reflecting debate within the Israeli government, and Tel Aviv's desire to keep the Iranians guessing.

Will the Israelis strike again? I can't answer that question. But it is worth remembering that Israeli is one of the foremost practitioners of military denial and deception (D&D) in the world. The Israeli Air Force--without peer in the Middle East--has incorporated D&D measures in virtually every operation. They are extremely adept at concealing operational planning and preparations from everyone, including the U.S. If Israel decides to target Iran, our first indication will likely come when the bombs start falling on an Iranian nuclear facility.

Meanwhile, the Iranians are supposedly preparing their air defenses for a potential Israeli strike. But, as this report demonstrates, Tehran's air defense system often operates in a state of confusion, the military equivalent of a Chinese fire drill (with apologies to Chinese participating in fire drills). Unfortunately, Iran's incompetence in these matters also raises the possibility of over-reaction of miscalculation. In this environment, there's a real possibility that Iran could shootdown a non-hostile aircraft (such as a civilian airliner), or lashing out at U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf region. Tehran believes the U.S. would be complicit in any Israeli strike, and besides, it's a shorter flight to our bases in the Gulf than Israel.

A Turning Point...

Every war has decisive battles that change the course of that conflict, and (ultimately) history. During the Civil War, the pivotal engagements were fought at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in the summer of 1863. With Meade's victory in Pennsylvania, and Grant's simultaneous capture of the Vicksburg (and with it, control of the Mississippi River), the fate of the Confederacy was sealed, and preservation of the union was assured.

Almost a century later, the decisive campaigns of World War II occurred in 1942, at El Alamein (British forces under Montgomery ended Rommel's threat to Egypt and the Suez Canal); Midway (where the U.S. Navy smashed a larger enemy force, putting Japan on the defensive, and beginning the low, hard slog to Tokyo Bay), and Stalingrad, where the Red Army finally stopped Hitler's Legions.

When the history of the Iraq insurgency is written, I believe the Battle of Fallujah will be remembered as the decisive engagement. Make no mistake: our military forces won a stunning victory when they stormed the terrorist stronghold last November, as NRO's Michael Ledeen observes:

Our victory in Fallujah has had enormous consequences, first of all because
the information we gathered there has made it possible to capture or kill
considerable numbers of terrorists and their leaders. It also sent a chill
through the spinal column of the terror network, because it exposed the lie at
the heart of their global recruitment campaign. As captured terrorists have told
the region on Iraqi television and radio, they signed up for jihad because they
had been told that the anti-American crusade in Iraq was a great success, and
they wanted to participate in the slaughter of the Jews, crusaders, and
infidels. But when they got to Iraq — and discovered that the terrorist leaders
immediately confiscated their travel documents so that they could not escape
their terrible destiny — they saw that the opposite was true. The slaughter — of
which Fallujah was the inescapable proof — was that of the jihadists at the
hands of the joint coalition and Iraqi forces.

Thirdly, the brilliant maneuvers of the Army and Marine forces in
Fallujah produced strategic surprise. The terrorists expected an attack from the
south, and when we suddenly smashed into the heart of the city from the north,
they panicked and ran, leaving behind a treasure trove of information,
subsequently augmented by newly cooperative would-be martyrs. Above all, the
intelligence from Fallujah — and I have this from military people recently
returned from the city — documented in enormous detail the massive involvement
of the governments of Syria and Iran in the terror war in Iraq. And the high
proportion of Saudi "recruits" among the jihadists leaves little doubt that the
folks in Riyadh are, at a minimum, not doing much to stop the flow of fanatical
Wahhabis from the south.

Click here for Mr. Ledeen's full article. As he reminds us, freedom is on the march. While final victory has not been secured, it seems more certain now than in the dark days following 9-11, when those noted strategists at The New York Times editorial board warned of a possible quagmire in Afghanistan. As Mr. Ledeen points out, the tidal wave of democracy is now reaching the darkest corners of the globe. And for that, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Marines and Soldiers who won the Battle of Fallujah.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Plame Affair, Part 63....

From today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, some encouraging news on efforts to plug the leaks that damage national security. Judith Miller, please call your lawyer's office.

Seems that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is still trying to figure out who "divulged" the identity of CIA Office Valerie Plame. A three-judge appellate panel has ruled that Ms. Miller (ace reporter for The New York Times) and Time correspondent Matthew Cooper do NOT have First Amendment protection for information being sought by Mr. Fitzgerald and a federal grand jury.

That scream you hear is the Fourth Estate, working itself into a lather over this "heavy blow against the public's right to know." In case you're wondering, that quote came from attorney Floyd Abrams, who is representing the two reporters.

It can be argued that Ms. Plame's identity was common knowledge in D.C. long before it was disclosed in a Robert Novak column. But there's a more important lesson to be learned here. First, the arbitrary disclosure of classified information should have consequences. And secondly, the First Amendment shouldn't be a convenient cover for those who leak, whatever their motivation.

Kill Misty for Me

In discussions about budgets for the Pentagon and intelligence community (IC), there's lots of talk about "black world" programs. As their name implies, black world programs are functions and activities that are officially "off the books," to prevent their disclosure--and possible damage to national security.

But no budgetary item is immune from reduction or elimination (at least in theory), and black world programs are not exception. But how do politicians kill items aren't even listed in the "official" budget that you can buy from the nearest government printing office? Of course! You remove it from the black world by making it public, through a series of well-timed leaks to sympathetic reporters.

That unfortunate "game" of fiscal "gotcha" is now being played again in the halls of Congress. Over the past few weeks, several members of the Senate have expressed concern about an alleged secret spy satellite program, nicknamed "Misty." According to media accounts, the Senate Intelligence Committee recently approved $9.5 billion in funding for the program, which critics describe as "unnecessary." Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has labeled the program, "ineffective, over-budget and too expensive." One wonders if Senator Wyden expresses the same outrage over wasteful social programs, but I digress.

Senator Wyden is an advocate of more "sunshine" in the intelligence process, but wait a minute. Why do we need a classified collection system in the first place? Conspiracy buffs at the Democratic Underground might opine that Misty is a sop for the Bush Administration's buddies at Lockheed-Martin, which reportedly developed the system, along with the once-secret National Reconnaissance Office.

But the rationale for a secret satellite program--assuming it exists--lies in deficiencies in our current collection system. As our adversaries become more adept at fooling traditional reconnaissance systems, it becomes necessary to use less conventional methods, say a platform that might not look or behave like a "typical" spy satellite.

The erosion of our technological edge is inevitable, to a degree. As more countries launch space programs and gain wider access to computer technology, it becomes easier to figure out how a spy satellite works, and develop counter-measures. But our fetish for leaking classified information has only accelerated the process. Front-page revelations, based on intelligence sources, often allow rogue states to compare the timing of reported events against their knowledge base on our collection systems. And the next time around, it becomes a little bit tougher to gather needed information.

I will give Wyden and his allies some credit. By discussing a purported black world program in the press, they've put the administration and the intelligence community in a difficult position. If they don't--or can't--respond, they're accused of stone-walling to hide an ineffective program. If they do respond, they might be forced to admit the program exists (and defend it publicly), further jeopardizing its effectiveness.

Meanwhile, our "friends" in Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Havana, Damascus and Pyongyang keep watching--and learning.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Droning On...

The big story in today's Washington Post was the revelation that the U.S. is using surveillance drones to keep tabs on Iran's nuclear program. According to the Post, we've been operating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) over Iranian nuclear sites for the past year, much to Tehran's consternation. Iran has reportedly filed a diplomatic protest over the reconnaissance missions (yawn), but the U.S. has no plans to halt the flights.

Actually, this revelation shouldn't surprise anyone with a better grip on world events than, say, Michael Moore. Iran's nuclear program is the #1 security concern in the Middle East; with our extensive military presence in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq, we now have the ability to maintain a closer watch on Iran's nuclear facilities, and monitor their efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Without the UAVs, we'd be forced to rely on stand-off intelligence assets (read: satellites) to image Tehran's nuclear sites. And, contrary to popular belief, imagery satellites don't provide round-the-clock coverage. More troubling, our adversaries--including Iran--have become much more adept at predicting when our satellites pass overhead, and curtailing activity during that period.

The fact that we're flying UAVs over Iran's nuclear sites doesn't bother me. In fact, I'm encouraged. If the Iranian nuclear program is the threat we claim, then we should use our full range of assets to monitor activity and the status of critical facilities. However, as a former spook, I'm more disturbed by the disclosure of another sensitive, close-hold program. True, the Iranians already had some idea that we were sending UAVs over their territory, but the WaPo (and its sources) removed any lingering doubts Tehran might have had. According to press reports, Iranian air defense commanders had reported possible UFOs (paging Art Bell) and unexplained lights in the sky in recent months, events now ascribed to the UAV flights. With a little further research, the Iranians will probably get a better feel for our operational patterns, reduce activity during likely imaging windows, and redouble their efforts to shoot down our drones. The likely result? Decreased collection, less information, and more questions about what Iran is really up to.

I don't know who leaked the story to the Post; the list of potential suspects is lengthy. Administration officials trying to send a signal to Iran; anti-Bush elements within the intelligence community trying to embarass the administration (again), or some mid-level official offering a little too much information in a background briefing, or just old-fashioned digging by Post reporters. But whatever the source, this "scoop" will have consequences for those trying to monitor Iran's nuclear program.

Make no mistake: Washington is a town that leaks like a seive, with little concern for anything beyond short-term political gains. Even the Bush Administration, with its legendary discipline and disdain for leaks, has been known to play the game. However, it's time to address the consequences of this "game" and look for ways to handle the leak problem.

Are leaks a problem? You be the judge. Over the past 10 years, the FBI has reportedly investigated more than 600 "inadvertent" disclosures of classified information from various government agencies. And how many leakers have been punished? None, nada, zero, zip. So clearly, those that leak classified information have little reason to fear the frozen wheels of justice.

Meanwhile, the leaks keep coming and we pay the price. Before I retired from the intelligence community, I reviewed a report from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), which analyzes information collected by our spy satellites. I won't go into the details of the report, because I'm still bound by confidentiality agreements, and I believe some secrets must be kept. Suffice it to say, the NGA report detailed serious losses in intelligence collection due to leaks during a single year. Multiply that effect over the past 10-15 years, and you've got some idea of the problem facing the intelligence community.

I'll discuss the leak problem in greater detail a bit later...for now, let's just say I'm encouraged by efforts to prosecute William Arkin, the Los Angeles Times military "columnist" who recently "outed" a couple of highly classified military operations. Hugh Hewitt, always ahead of the curve, has an excellent take on Mr. Arkin and his views on national security, in a recent column for The Weekly Standard.

One final thought: I fully support freedom of the press, a sentiment that is shared across the intelligence community. But I am opposed to leaks that damage our intelligence collection efforts, and threaten national security. If we want to win the War on Terror, we must learn to keep our mouths shut--at least part of the time. Punishing those who arbitrarily leak, print or broadcast--with no regard for the consequences--would be a good way to encourage such behavior.