McLean column: Prosecute all leakers, including Comey
Human intelligence collection, spying, is a hard, dangerous and dirty business. It takes years to develop networks of agents. Case officers for the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency work in the most dangerous areas of the world trying to infiltrate our enemies at the highest levels.
They operate undercover identities with little or no backup, surviving by wits alone. Typically the most stressful time for a field operative is when he tries to recruit a new source. Imagine posing as an importer of Persian carpets in Iran while trying to recruit high-level officials to work as operatives for the U.S. That stress is exponentially increased by leaks and betrayals in Washington.
Hundreds if not thousands of sources were lost due to the treachery of the former CIA analyst Aldrich Ames and FBI Counterintelligence Officer Robert Hansen. Both were recruited by Russian agents. Both revealed names of CIA sources in Russia. Both betrayed the country for money.
In the aftermath of those betrayals, stress was at an all-time high level for case officers. Recently, case officers had to overcome the unmasking of an Iranian nuclear scientist defector on Hillary’s unsecure server. Undoubtedly our enemies widely publicized that action, causing sources or potential sources to doubt our ability to keep their identities secret. Case officers scrambled to contact old sources and reassure them. Recruiting new operatives must have been extremely difficult.
Field operatives in either the CIA or DIA have never trusted the bureaucrats in Washington with good reason. Analysts who never venture in the field or put themselves at risk in any way are capable of blowing the cover of case officers and their sources by their seemingly innocent leaks. While the actions of Ames and Hansen were isolated incidents, leaking classified material has become epidemic.
Within the U.S. intelligence community, there is considerable political infighting. The principal agencies are the CIA, DIA, National Security Agency and FBI. The CIA is tasked with human intelligence collection outside the U.S. It also does some work with satellite intelligence and communications intercepts. DIA does signals, satellite, reconnaissance aircraft and marine surveillance, as well as tactical human collection in areas where our troops are operating. NSA intercepts all communications in the world that are transmitted. FBI is tasked with counterintelligence.
All of these agencies have battled with the others for funding and priority in intelligence gathering. CIA believes it is the pre-eminent intelligence agency. It resents sharing data with NSA or DIA and detests the FBI, which it regards as fumbling, bumbling, idiots.
The FBI assumes a role of supremacy over the others. Its attitude is one of moral supremacy since its agents do not engage in the dirty work of spying. They are law enforcement.
It is entirely possible that one agency would leak derogatory information damaging to another of our agencies. James Comey leaked to damage President Trump. Would he not have done the same to other agencies if he felt it would be beneficial to him?
While interference in our elections is cause for concern, the epidemic of leaks is potentially far more damaging. Edward Snowden and Bradley/Chelsea Manning did untold damage to our ability to protect ourselves from attack. For those who applauded the leaking of Hillary’s emails, that was also an egregious act. Hillary should not have used an unsecure server, but her emails should never have been leaked. She should have been prosecuted for her reckless treatment of classified materials, but her emails should not have been leaked.
Wikileaks and Julian Assange are our enemies. It is likely that Assange is working for a foreign intelligence operation, probably Russian. Their goal is to weaken us and cause chaos in our society. It is doubtful that they care who is elected: they just want to weaken our government as much as possible. A good intelligence operations plan would utilize someone such as Assange to leak and create havoc seemingly on his own while the true nature of the agency behind him would be hidden.
Recently the worst leak was the divulging of the name of the Manchester bomber. As a result of that leak, our intelligence-sharing ability with the United Kingdom was jeopardized. The UK wanted to hide the identity of the bomber until it had a chance to find any accomplices. That leak jeopardized the investigation.
It is difficult to understand what would motivate a leaker to give that information to the press unless the person was working for ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, or Iranian intelligence. Surely access to that sensitive information was restricted to high-level bureaucrats. Would someone have risked their career just to help a journalist friend?
Somehow the leaking of classified materials has become acceptable. It seems to be viewed by the press as a form of whistleblowing.
It is not. It is damaging to our national security. It puts our case officers and military at risk. It enables foreign enemies to weaken our defense. The Obama administration, by pardoning Manning, condoned leaking. It was viewed as a minor indiscretion although those leaks caused irreparable damage. Now we must stop that attitude by prosecuting any and all leakers, including James Comey.
Roland McLean, an Aspen Glen resident, is a University of Colorado graduate, Navy veteran and retiree after more than 30 years in international construction. His column appears on the fourth Thursday of each month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.