Friday, April 21, 2006

A Step in the Right Direction

Fox News (and other media outlets) are reporting that a CIA officer has been fired for deliberately leaking classified information to the press. The name of the fired officer has not been released, and the agency won't say what type of information was disclosed.

However, one government official described it as a "damaging leak" that deals with operational information. The fired employee apparently admitted his activities after the CIA began investigating media leaks back in January. Agency officials said the officer did not work in its public affairs department and was "not authorized" to speak to the press. CIA and Justice Department officials won't say whether legal actions are being considered against the fired employee.

My reaction to this news can be summed up in a single phrase: it's about time. As this blog has noted (on several occasions), there have been more than 600 investigtions into unauthorized leaks since the mid-1990s. Until now, all of those inquires had something in common--none had resulted in the dismissal of offending employees, or criminal prosecution. Not surprisingly, leakers became emboldened, with new disclosures appearing in the drive-by media on almost a weekly basis.

We've said it before, and it's worth repeating again: in order to survive, a democracy must have some secrets--and it's not up to a disgruntled CIA employee to decide what gets declassified. I'm sure that some observers on the left will claim a double standard: George W. Bush allows Scooter Libby to "leak" information for "political" purposes, while the CIA worker loses his job. But there is a difference. The President has the legal authority to declassify information; a desk analyst at Langley does not. I'm no fan of political leaks by either side, but the President has the weight of the law behind him, and every chief executive has "declassified" information as he has seen fit. On the other hand, rank-and-file employees within the ntelligence community don't have that authority, and they're still bound by non-disclosure agreements.

Today's announcement also suggests that CIA director Porter Goss is making some headway against the agency cabal that has steadfastly opposed the Bush Administration and its national security policies. For years, this group has willingly leaked information to a compliant press, trying to embarass the administration and undermine its policies. But the leak game may be coming to an end--and not a moment too soon.

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