The Obama Leaks: The issue is not the leaks, but whether the president lied to the American people

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
–William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, scene II

The key question relating to the so-called “national security leaks” (“or “White House leaks” or “Obama leaks”) is not so much who in the White House and the government was responsible for the leaks, but rather whether the President lied to the American people in his press conference on June 8, 2012, in response to a direct question about them.

[O]bama’s White House appeared to be leaking highly classfied information for political purposes, to portray the president as a strong and decisive leader on foreign policy. If this is true, it reflects the hubris and unprincipled partisanship of President Obama and his “foreign policy juggernaut”, as well as the incompetence of “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

We deserve to know, soon, if that was the case and who the leakers were.

We also deserve to know if the president, at the June 8 news conference, was telling the truth in responding to the reporter’s question, in general, and in particular with respect to leaks regarding “targeted killings”.

–The Trenchant Observer, “Holder’s Investigations into Torture and Covert Operations Leaks–An Obama Cover-up?” June 26, 2012.

See also The Trenchant Observer, “Did the White House authorize recent leaks on covert programs?” June 10, 2012.

Cora Currier of ProPublica has now provided a detailed examination of the leaks that are being investigated and those that are not, with an explanation of the law governing leaks.

See Cora Currier, “Classified Confusion: What Leaks Are Being Investigated, and What’s the Law on Leaks?” ProPublica: Journalism in the Public Interest, July 2, 2012.

The leaks relating to the drone attacks and targeted killing program of the Obama administration, which (to some eyes) show the president in a very favorable light, as a strong and decisive leader who assumes moral responsibility and who acts decisively against Americá’s enemies, are apparently not being investigated, despite Obama’s statements at the press briefing on June 8.

In her rundown of the various leaks and the extent to which they are currently being investigated, Courier reports,

Leak: The CIA’s drone program

The CIA’s drone program and targeted strikes have been written about for years [8], but recent articles from Newsweek [9] and the New York Times [10] got particular attention.

Sources: Too many [11] to count. The Times article alone [10] cites “three dozen of [Obama’s] current and former advisers.” Staffers from the House and Senate Intelligence committees—whose members have been among the most vocal [12] in their concern about leaks—were cited [13] just last week in an article on CIA drone strikes.

Investigation: Apparently not. The CIA reportedly hasn’t filed a report [4] on drone leaks. Unnamed officials told Reuters one reason is that the CIA’s drone program has already been so openly discussed [14] (this despite the government’s position in a [15] separate case that the public doesn’t know the program exists). A Justice Department official recently noted to Congress that agencies sometimes don’t request an investigation because of “wide dissemination 16]” of the leaked information.

As the reader may recall, President Obama was asked the following question on June 8:

All right. David Jackson.

Q Thank you, sir. There are a couple of books out with, essentially, details about national security issues. There are reports of terrorist kill lists that you supervise and there are reports of cyber-attacks on the Iranian nuclear program that you ordered. Two things. First of all, what’s your reaction of this information getting out in public? And secondly, what’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?

The question directly addressed “terrorist kill lists which you supervise”.

Daniel Klaidman, in his new book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terrorism and Soul of the Obama Presidency (New York and Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) reports on the drone attacks and targeted killing programs referred to by Jackson in his question at the press briefing on June 8. His book was clearly one of the two books referred to by Jackson in his question.

Klaidman specifically addresses targeted killings and kill lists at pp. 21-23, 39-43, 117-127, and 199-223 of his book.

In his “Note on Sources” (pp.xiii-xv), Klaidman explains:

When I quote President Obama or other key characters, I do so only if that quote was relayed to me by a source who personally heard it. Where possible, I have checked those quotes against contemporeous notes taken by participants in meetings. Ultimately, I am dependent on the memory of my sources.

Occasionally I write about the emotional state and interior thoughts of President Obama and his top aides. In doing so, I am not taking lkiterary license. Those accounts are based on reporting–either from specific comments the president has made that directly express his state of mind, or from reasonable inferences from sources I have interviewed who have observed and spoken to him.

–David Klaidman, Kill or Capture, p. xiv.

The other book Jackson was referring to was David E. Sanger, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of american Power (New York: Crown Publishers / Random House, Inc. 2012).

An excellent overall account of the targeted killing program, its operation, and the president’s involvement in its activities, is found in the following articles published in the New York Times:

Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” The New York Times, May 29, 2012.

Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Assessing Obama’s Counterterrorism Record, New York Times,” May 29, 2012.

See also The Trenchant Observer, “President Obama as ”Executioner in Chief,” June 1, 2012, and the sources cited therein.

So, there we are, on this July 4, 2012, with one of the biggest questions out there being whether the president has lied to the American people about a matter of the utmost national security importance.

Did he do so at his press conference on June 8 when, with the clever phrasing of a highly-trained lawyer, he seemed to deny the leaks came from the White House?  

One is reminded of the famous statement by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet, Act III, scene II.

No doubt Bill Clinton thought he had cleverly avoided perjury when he stated, at a press briefing on January 26, 1998,  “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

Does it matter whether the president told the truth?

Yes, because his credibility is at issue. If he didn’t tell the truth in this instance, what are we to believe in other instances?

Let the reader be the judge.

The Trenchant Observer

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.