Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Unfinished Business

The Beltway Set spent most of 2005 fixated on the Valerie Plame affair, and the question of whether White House aides broke the law by divulging her status as a CIA operative.

While Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby was indicted for perjury and lying to federal investigators, there were no charges on the original complaint, that Libby had willingly disclosed the name of an undercover intelligence operative.

While the Plame affair apparently didn't meet the test for an actual "leak" of classified information, there are dozens of referrals still in the criminal justice system, based on the reported disclosure of classified information. As Betsy Newmark reminds us, three Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee--Senators Jay Rockefeller, Dick Durbin and Ron Wyden--are under investigation for their comments about a reported covert spy satellite system. The inquiry began more than a year ago, but there have been no public statements on the status of the investigation. And, as Betsy notes, why are these men still sitting on the committee, with unfettered access to the nation's most sensitive intelligence secrets. Jed Babbin expressed similar concerns almost a year ago.

Readers of this blog know that we've been on the Wyden case for some time. Remarkably, the continued his public comments on the purported spy satellite system in mid-February 2005, after the matter had been referred for criminal investigation.

Wyden's hubris suggests he has little fear that the referral will result in an indictment. His confidence is hardly mis-placed. To date, no U.S. lawmaker has even been indicted for deliberately leaking classified information. Even Vermont's notorious Patrick "Leaky" Leahy received only a slap on the wrist for repeatedly divulging classified data during his tenure on the intelligence committee in the 1980s. As punishment, Leahy was forced to resign from the committee. Had Leahy been a military member or civilian intelligence specialist, his crime would have resulted in a prison sentence.

And, BTW, the list of Congressional leakers isn't limited to Democrats. Another investigation was launched several years ago into Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), after he disclosed that U.S. intelligence could monitor Osama bin Laden's cell phone. Shelby's comments eliminated a valuable source of intelligence information that could have been used in preventing future terrorist attacks. But like the Wyden/Durbin/Rockefeller inquiry, the Shelby referral remains in legal limbo.

At Alberto Gonzalzes's next press conference, an enterprising reporter ought to ask the attorney general about the status of these referrrals, and the apparent lack of progress. If we're serious about protecting our intelligence secrets, we should demand the same standards of protection and accountability from everyone with access to that information. But sadly, that won't happen. The same lawmakers who pass intel secrets to their friends in the press are the same Congressmen and Senators who vote for military and intelligence appropriations bills. Indicting a few Senators might make it tough to secure future budget increases, so the leaks will continue, and the Justice Department will pay only lip service to the notion of accountability.

No comments: