Obama Administration Opposes Leak of Classified Information…Unless It’s Them Doing the Leaking

The Obama administration has waged a full-scale war against whistle-blowers. As a Presidential candidate, Barack Obama seemed to understand the importance of not only having people willing to speak out and expose government wrongdoing, but of also protecting those people. Here is what he said in 2008:

“Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal.”


Obviously, it’s tricky when we are talking about national security information. The problem is, when it wants to cover up it’s wrongdoing, the government has a tendency to label everything as protected information that if made public, would jeopardize national security. Hence, we have whistle-blowers to expose those cover-ups.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were known for their dogged prosecution of classified leaks but Obama has surprised many of his own supporters with the ferocity with which he has gone after government whistle-blowers:

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Some of the Obama administration’s targets have been NYT journalist James Risen:

The subpoena to Risen was originally issued but then abandoned by the Bush administration, and then revitalized by Obama lawyers. It is part of the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent whom the DOJ accuses of leaking to Risen the story of a severely botched agency plot — from 11 years ago — to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program, a story Risen wrote about six years after the fact in his 2006 best-selling book, State of War. The DOJ wants to force Risen to testify under oath about whether Sterling was his source.


During the Bush years, Risen was one of the few investigative journalists exposing the excesses and lawbreaking that was the War on Terror — causing him to be literally hated by officials of the National Security State. Along with Eric Lichtblau, Risen most famously revealed, in 2005, that the NSA was secretly spying on Americans without warrants which — as he put it in his Affidavit — “in all likelihood, violated the law and the United States Constitution.” In 2006, he revealed that the Bush administration had been obtaining huge amounts of financial and banking information about American citizens from the SWIFT system, all without oversight or Congressional authorization.

Then there’s NSA whistle-blower Thomas Drake who revealed an unbelievable amount of waste, fraud and abuse at the agency while also providing information on the illegal NSA domestic spying program.

Glenn Greenwald exposes the hypocrisy of the Obama administration’s policy on national security leaks by pointing to an article that appeared in the NYT, which relies on classified information provided by top White House officials, accusing Pakistani spies of killing journalists. I guess now that our relationship with Pakistan is on the outs, it could be that the administration wants to use these selective leaks to send a clear message to Pakistan. From Greenwald:

Two “senior administration officials” — a term that applies to a relatively small number of high-level Obama appointees — have leaked highly classified information to that paper without (according to the article) authorization, a leak that is likely to cause very serious damage to U.S. relations with Pakistan:

Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist who had written scathing reports about the infiltration of militants in the country’s military, according to American officials.

New classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of the journalist, Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his mortally wounded body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said. . . .

The disclosure of the information in itself could further aggravate the badly fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan. . . . The disclosure of the intelligence was made in answer to questions about the possibility of its existence, and was reluctantly confirmed by the two officials. “There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this,” said one.

A third senior American official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Mr. Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed.

As is well-documented, the Obama administration has been conducting an unprecedentedly aggressive war to ferret out and punish those who leak classified information without authorization. None of those cases, however, involves any documented or even potential harm to U.S. national security; instead, they resulted in the exposure of corruption, deceit, waste and illegality on the part of political officials, and were made by relatively mid-level or even low-level government functionaries.

Here, by contrast, we have two high-placed Obama officials leaking classified information without authorization in a way that could truly damage U.S. relations with a vital country…

Interestingly, you would think the MSM would be all over this hypocrisy. After all, watching journalist James Risen being targeted by the White House must be rather jarring to serious investigative journalists. However, most in the MSM really aren’t covering Obama’s war on whistle-blowers or his administration’s selective use of classified leaks to serve his own agenda. That’s what happens when you have such a cozy relationship between the fawning, elite, Beltway media and the government officials they are supposed to be holding accountable.

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

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4 Comments on “Obama Administration Opposes Leak of Classified Information…Unless It’s Them Doing the Leaking”

  1. Amanda Gates Says:

    This is an era of transparency and no efforts by any administration in any part of the world will be able to suppress the power of people. You can see it now even in the countries which are owned by dictators & now, they have been shown their place with the power of people. Hence, Obama’s efforts of stopping whistle-blowers disclosing classified information would not yield any result.


    • Steve Says:

      I agree that things have changed and people have new ways of getting the word out. But don’t underestimate the power of State to repress and stifle journalists in this regard.

      What Obama is doing has a chilling effect on press freedom in this country. What they are doing to Bradley Manning is reprehensible. WikiLeaks is controversial and they should have done more to protect people named in some of the documents but it showed how the US was/is complicit in propping up dictators, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars to pay off foreign leaders like Karzai and of course WikiLeaks has exposed outright crimes by our military.

      Funny that that video that showed the US Apache helicopter murdering those civilians, including a journalist, didn’t generate even 1/10th as much outrage as the Casey Anthony verdict.

      As a country, the U.S. has become a national security state and We the People have become little more than compliant sheep. We don’t care about PATRIOT Act or warrantless wiretapping or FBI abuse of their authority because some idiot in the WH or state dept. just yells “you’ve jeopardized our nation’s national security!!” and we all go “ooh, ahhh” and we stop asking questions and go back to focusing on killing brown people with remote control robot planes in far off places.

      It’s a disgrace that the Bush administration got away with so many crimes and that this administration seems to be continuing them and helping to cover them up- that was also exposed in State Dept. cables- we’ve tortured and killed people who were not terrorists and have been threatening European countries to shut up about it.

      Our only hope is a free press and whistleblowers.


      • Pilgrim Says:

        “As a country, the U.S. has become a national security state…”

        Would that be the same as a police state?



  1. Obama Administration Opposes Leak of Classified Information…Unless … | Daily News 24 Hours and seven day a week, Best News around the World - July 7, 2011

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