Leaks, Treason and the Right

The New York Times recently published leaked information that showed that, according to the US Central Command - the ones actually running the war in Iraq - that nation is rapidly descending into chaos, contrary to the rosy picture being painted by the administration and their apologists. While Dick Cheney is telling audiences that Iraq is doing "remarkably well", the Pentagon's internal reports show that urban areas of Iraq are "experiencing ethnic cleansing to consolidate control" and that violence is "at an all time high" and "spreading geographically."

Naturally, the right wing blogosphere is up in arms - not at the administration for their lies, but at the newspaper for daring to report them. Such is the insanity of folks like Michelle Malkin, who is calling for treason charges against the reporter. The National Review blog says the same thing:

And while we're at it, I would love to understand why the law doesn't prohibit the propagation of strategic national secrets in wartime -- which has always been understood as treason.

Is it a "strategic national secret" that things are going very badly in Iraq and the security situation is worsening as the country descends into civil war? From whom are we keeping this secret? The Iraqis surely know it. The insurgents know it; they are the ones doing it, after all. The ethnic fighters know it. Al Qaeda knows it. The only ones that our government is actually keeping their own internal assessments from are the American people, and they're hiding it because that reality conflicts with their political need to minimize the problems prior to an election.

Glenn Greenwald hits the nail precisely on the head:

This is what the ideal world of the Bush follower looks like: If the Government is waging a war and things are going horribly, the Government has the right to lie to its citizens and claim that things are going remarkably well. If a newspaper is furnished with documents prepared by the military that shows that the Government is lying and that things are actually going very poorly, the newspaper should then be barred from informing their readers about that truth -- and ought to criminally prosecuted, perhaps even executed, if they do so. It truly takes an authoritarian mind of the most irredeemable proportions to watch our political leaders have their lies exposed about a war and have as their first reaction the desire that those who exposed the lies be prosecuted and imprisoned.

The ones who are committing treason are those who are lying to the public about how badly the war is going. The ones who are anti-American are those who want to use the power of the state to crush freedom of the press because doing so protects those they favor politically. Those are the traitors, not the NY Times. They were absolutely right to publish the Pentagon Papers, which showed the same thing about the Vietnam War that this shows about the Iraq war - that the military itself acknowledges privately the exact opposite of what is being told to the public. Exposing such lies is patriotism; seeking to punish them is treason.

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The overriding strategic national secret that we shouldn't talk about is the reason that we're there and how long we plan to stay there. They keep throwing out reasons for our being there to see which are the most palatable. But here's my reasons:

a. We're there to protect our strategic interests -- the capitalist engine must be fed or it will grind to a halt. Slice away the rest of the chaff and that's what remains.

b. To protect interests, once there, we need to stay indefinitely. Hence a permanent presence is required. Yuck.

c. Some aspects of this are relatively cheap. We're mostly outraged over the fiscal costs.

I think raising the word "treason" is a bad idea for the right, what with the whole Valerie Plame thing still not behind us.

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 07 Nov 2006 #permalink

Forget the paid liars -- the REAL traitors are the ones who started this war in the first place. Most of those infamous Soviet spies never even INTENDED to do our country as much damage as Bush has done.

No, Ted, we're outraged about the moral costs, the consequences, the loss of US credibility and flexibility, and a host of other things completely separate from the "fiscal costs." Don't try to pretend that the Americans who have friends and loved ones serving over there are "mostly outraged over the fiscal costs."

(News flash: Noam Chomsky is NOT a Middle-East expert.)

Don't try to pretend that the Americans who have friends and loved ones serving over there are "mostly outraged over the fiscal costs."

Raging B-

Uh, Ok. When the government cares and shapes its direction based on the opinions of the trailer trash of America, we'll be in a new America. Maybe after this election though.

Right now, the underclass is paying the human burden of this war, and will continue to pay for it into the future because taxes have been shifted from national infrastructure to kitchen remodeling in gated communities. Of course, trickle down would indicate that the underclass is providing the kitchen remodeling labor too so it's sort of directly benefiting them in accordance to the freemarket, tax-redistribution model.

Did I fuck up that link above by linking to Noam again? Damn this paste buffer.

Is it a "strategic national secret" that things are going very badly in Iraq and the security situation is worsening as the country descends into civil war?

As far as the administration and their hacks are concerned? Sure. How else are the Republicans going to win the election if they can't conceal that from the people who only watch Fox and listen to talk radio? And you know what happens when the Democrats win. The terrorists do too.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 07 Nov 2006 #permalink

Has anyone made a list of exactly how many sections of the Bill of Rights have NOT been attacked by the Administration or right-wing mouthpieces? Admittedly, they haven't been quartering soldiers in people's homes lately, and some of you would probably argue -- I'd disagree -- that they are big on protecting the Second Amendment.

Of course, in 24 hours we should have a good idea if Rove and Diebold have managed to to take away the fundamental right, not just to vote but to have our votes counted the way we cast them.

Right Blogistan calls for treason charges against the New York Times for this, but not a word about the President ordering -- over the objections of his national security experts -- the release of thousands of documents seized from Saddam Hussein's government for anyone in the world to see on the World Wide Web. Included in these documents is information that would be helpful in building a nuclear bomb. And to make it easier for our enemies to use the data, everything's printed in the original Arabic.

But see, the President did that, so it's not a crime, or treason, or even anything to get worked up about. Because the President cannot, by definition, do anything wrong. But a PowerPoint slide showing the President is a liar, now THAT someone needs to be shot for!

Agreeing completely with Jeff.

I'd have thought that right now nobody on the Right would want to each touch the "revealing national secrets to our enemies" card. It really takes chutzpah to do so less than a week after it's been revealed that Bush personally saw to it that detailed plans, in Arabic, involving the Iraqi nuclear program were published on the Internet for the world to see.

Oh yeah, it's also the fault of the NY Times for publicizing this leak. Because terrorists and spies don't have their own resources and wouldn't be aware of anything if it didn't first appear in the NY Times.

If Clinton had done something like this, every MSM newscast for the next six months would be talking about how this kind of mistake was grounds for impeachment.

Doesn't surprise me. My daily newspaper runs Malkin's editorials regularly and I just as regularly neglect to read them. For a young, sweet-looking asian woman, she's a surprising source of right-wing hysterical vitriol.

Would this be a bad time to note that things are also deteriorating in Afghanistan, with the Taliban getting stronger every day? Or would that be as Jon Stewart says, 'so three jihads ago'?

Has anyone made a list of exactly how many sections of the Bill of Rights have NOT been attacked by the Administration or right-wing mouthpieces?

Sort of. Keith Olbermann.

Right Blogistan calls for treason charges against the New York Times for this, but not a word about the President ordering -- over the objections of his national security experts -- the release of thousands of documents seized from Saddam Hussein's government for anyone in the world to see on the World Wide Web. Included in these documents is information that would be helpful in building a nuclear bomb. And to make it easier for our enemies to use the data, everything's printed in the original Arabic.

No, Mr. Hebert, the right wing has been talking about this. And according to them, it proves that Iraq had WMDs, or at least a nuclear weapons program, so everything Bush said was right! Nevermind that the documents were from the first Gulf War, we already knew the Iraqis had them, and that they didn't have the ability to embark on a nuclear weapons program, etc....

I think the issue that the right is making over this is that a classified military operational status briefing got leaked to the press. In many cases this type of PPT presentation is viewed as a sort of internal working papers and not final product. It may be generated for an internal audience and is actually operational and not strategic in nature.

I think calling the slide a "strategic national secret" is a mischaracterization. It's an operational working paper that's updated on a routine basis based on staff analysis. And it probably is secret because the nature of the working paper and source data. Releasing low level working papers may actually fall into the category of politically motivated releases and would impact the strategic directions when positioned as such.

Greenwald oversteps by rhetoric in this case (...of the military shows the government is lying...) For example, Clinton was bounded by congress on how many troops can be sent to a particular peacekeeping operation. Those numbers were routinely abused and manipulated because if congress authorized 16,000 to a mission, the local status board would convey numbers far in excess of that -- 16,000 in the command directly assigned to the authorized mission, another 4,000 as backup support under a different command (UN maybe) that happened to be very close by and another 5,000 in the country next door making logistics runs. Congress authorizes 16,000 in country, yet the local status boards show up to 25,000 literally in country doing business. This type of obfuscation is pretty normal and once it's accepted it becomes a part of the process. Congress knew but let it slide because it lets them say they cared enough to authorize, but not enough to meddle in military operations. Military knowing that the government is lying is nothing new and specifically unique to the Republicans.

Sorry about overposting on this but this slide is just so interesting.

The cult of Edward Tufte among the educated staff officers vying for limited face time as communication mavens is all over the slide in question. I've known people able to make a career out of explaining a single slide. Literally.

From Tufte:

Alas, slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis. What is the problem with PowerPoint? And how can we improve our presentations?

The typical staff briefing usually progresses in turn through a hierarchy of officers heaping zen-like knowledge of Tufte critiques on the hapless PPT creator. And so the student becomes the master.

I'm old enough to remember a past republican president, and a past unpopular war where people said the same kinds of things about people against that war. That president was impeached, not for the war, but for the kind of dirty political tricks being mentioned above and in the news. Seems like the republicans haven't changed their tune........

Military knowing that the government is lying is nothing new and specifically unique to the Republicans.

Invading the wrong country, pretending they couldn't have foreseen what the rest of the country foresaw (after they foresaw it), then pretending everything's hunky-dory when the rest of the world can see it isn't, then impugning the patriotism of everyone who questions Dear Leader's word, IS "specifically unique to the Republicans." Even Vietnam was fought more competently than this, and even (Democrat) LBJ had the guts to admit his policy there was going wrong.

I don't agree.

Clin-ton bombing the Serbs for the benefit of the Albanians was illegal in a variety of ways -- violation of NATO charter, interfering into the sovreignity of a nation during a civil war, insufficient congressional mandate etc.

From a military perspective lots of people that had passing familiarity with the NATO charter felt uneasy that they were asked to violate some basic tenets because Dennis Miller and a bunch of talking heads got their undies in a bunch. Lots of the justification for that little war might have been manufactured on command. (Which is one good indication of planning. I mean who the fuck invades a country without some throw-down WMD evidence? Rank amateurs, that's who. Remember when we got to Pristina? First thing we saw on CNN were bloody implements of torture in some basement. Do you know if that was on the up-and-up? When it's done right, we all wink-wink, nudge-nudge and move on.)

To me the real issue is that we really have very little patience for protracted incompetence that's expensive and making us look like a bunch of clueless rubes to second class Europeans. If we had finished this Iraq thing in 30 days, would we give a fuck if Bush wanted to a) invade for oil, b) to enrich his friends, c) to restock the military, d) to get the guy that tried to kill his dad, e) to bring them democracy, f) because the neocons at PNAC and AEI told him to do it or g) because OBL told him to clear out of Saudi Arabia and he needed a new place to protect ARAMCO from? Fuck no, we'd have been trowing triumphalist parades and commenced saber-rattling in the straits of Taiwan by now.

Is it a "strategic national secret" that things are going very badly in Iraq and the security situation is worsening as the country descends into civil war? From whom are we keeping this secret? The Iraqis surely know it. The insurgents know it; they are the ones doing it, after all. The ethnic fighters know it. Al Qaeda knows it.

Actually, the insurgents probably didn't know it. Those who actually know something about warfare (which group apparently includes neither this blog's author nor most of its readers) know that "the fog of war" is more than just a cliche. If you're a soldier or small-unit commander on the ground, getting accurate information isn't easy. Most of what you hear is rumor, and most of that is wrong. You often don't know how much effect your actions are having. For that matter, you often don't know how much effect the enemy's actions are having either. And perhaps most important of all, you don't know how much the enemy knows about the situation -- yours or theirs. That's why intelligence-gathering is such an essential aspect of modern warfare. Information is as much a weapon as bullets or bombs are.

That slide was part of an internal Army briefing, prepared using the best information the Army has -- information that the enemy probably didn't have. Printing it was analogous to printing details of future troop movements or supply convoy routes. Such information is always operationally important -- that's why it's classified and kept secret. I'm not entirely sure that revealing it crosses the line into active treason as defined by the Constitution ... but as somebody who holds a clearance and has gotten the lecture on handling classified materials, I'm bloody well certain that both the newspaper and whoever leaked it to them broke the law. Lock 'em up and melt down the key.

By wolfwalker (not verified) on 07 Nov 2006 #permalink

Printing it was analogous to printing details of future troop movements or supply convoy routes.

Are you kidding? Please tell me you're kidding. Printing an analysis that says in essence "Things in Iraq are a mess" is just the same as printing troop movements that might directly lead to those troops being killed in action?

I really hope you're kidding. Anyone in Iraq with a TV or eyes know things there suck, you don't need satellites or briefings -- it's bloody obvious. This was as big a "secret" as a briefing that said "We're fighting in Iraq." In your "Information is a weapon" analogy, this was a Red Rider BB Gun left lying on the side of the road.

On the other hand, we have -- literally -- nuclear secrets being published in Arabic on the direct orders of the President. I look forward to your calls to have Mr. Bush's prison key melted down as well.

Oh wait, I forgot -- he's the President so he can't do any wrong. My bad.

...but as somebody who holds a clearance and has gotten the lecture on handling classified materials, I'm bloody well certain that both the newspaper and whoever leaked it to them broke the law. Lock 'em up and melt down the key.

I'm pretty sure we don't have an official secrets act. Whoever leaked it may have broken the law, but I doubt that the NYT did by publishing it. It was newsworthy because it directly contradicted the President's assessments. Although like I said, they misrepresented an operational briefing slide as strategic. Keller's oped explains their logic IRT revealing secrets.

I'm old enough to remember a past republican president, and a past unpopular war where people said the same kinds of things about people against that war. That president was impeached, ...

Rocky,

If you are old enough to remember the Vietnam War and Nixon's presidency, you should be old enough to know Nixon was never impeached. As I understand it, the articles were being drawn when he resigned. The only two presidents to be impeached were Andrew (not Lyndon) Johnson and William Clinton. Both were found not guilty.

By Shawn Smith (not verified) on 07 Nov 2006 #permalink

It's also not true that only the Republicans get us into wars on false pretenses and lie about it. Vietnam, LBJ and the Gulf of Tonkin incident haven't been entirely forgotten, have they?

It's also not true that only the Republicans get us into wars on false pretenses and lie about it.

Absolutely true, which is why the point that the press must be allowed to seek out and publish the truth is so critical. It is the structure of the rule of law that guarantees liberty, not reliance on the benevolence of one party or another. Men of any stripe are weak and given to an excess of power, that's why our Constitution is built the way it is. That's the most worrisome aspect of the Bush Administration, they seem hell-bent on dismantling the very institutions -- the press, the rule of law, separation of powers, an independent judiciary -- that are most fundamental to protecting our liberty from those in power.

Malkin is trying to deflect the treason impeachment of Cheney, of course. The treason here is the killing of accurate reports that would lead to good policy -- and it's Malkin and Cheney who are committing that treason.

What sort of twisted ethics could lead Malkin to make such a claim, other than a pure desire to deflect the true treason charges? Surely she knows better.