After the Wikileaks debacle of 2010, I hoped the Obama administration learned an important lesson on the need to protect America's most valuable intelligence, which is often obtained by dependable sources through increasingly sophisticated and clever methods.
Wikileaks illustrated how the release of sensitive information by an individual can deeply damage our nation's intelligence capabilities and embarrass American officials and our trusted allies. Wikileaks also taught us the regrettable action of a single bad actor can endanger the lives of countless human sources, who are incredibly courageous and extremely valuable to the United States. Unfortunately, the breadth and detail of recent media coverage involving further clandestine operations suggests individuals within this administration missed the memo.
Recently, officials have shared with the media sensitive information involving the foiling of a terrorist plot to bomb an airliner, publicized the role undercover agents played in the targeting of drone strikes in Yemen, and revealed the American and Israeli origins of cyber attacks on the Iranian nuclear program. If true, these are very serious breaches of secrecy that could have deadly consequences. Imagine a scenario in which it was discovered our nation's energy, financial services or other critical infrastructure was disrupted by cyber attacks originating in Iran. The American response would likely include, justifiably, the delivery of missiles to the doorstep of Iranian industrial sites.
What are most troubling about these leaks are their surprising sources. Media reports indicate "senior administration officials" are behind the most recent rash of alarming disclosures — not CIA or Pentagon officials, but the president's closest advisers and confidants. In the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's death, the media's coverage of his killing included details identifying the location of "Pakistani safe houses" and the background of the Special Forces who carried out the raid. Reportedly, American officials also revealed the daring actions of a Pakistani physician who helped identify bin Laden in his Abbottabad compound. This unforgivable blabbering led to a 33-year-prison sentence for the good doctor — for the crime of treason. Simply awful.
The response of Attorney General Eric Holder — who once appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA agents involved in harsh terrorist interrogations should be charged with crimes — was underwhelming. Mr. Holder appointed a politically active assistant, who contributed money to the president's election campaign, to further investigate the recent rash of leaks.
This maneuver, which is nearly as tone deaf as his misguided attempt to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 terrorists in New York City courts rather than appropriate military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, does little to convince most Americans the administration is taking the situation as seriously as it should.
The growing list of high-level revelations has rightfully garnered bipartisan attention and concern in Congress. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been particularly critical of what she calls an "avalanche of leaks," explaining, "It puts American lives in jeopardy. It puts our nation's security in jeopardy."
Beyond criticism, congressional oversight of the matter is critical as individuals responsible must be held accountable. While dozens of senators have called for an independent investigation to be conducted by special counsel, elected officials politically aligned with the president have unfortunately balked at the proposal, believing the attorney general's meager response is sufficient. As reluctant as I am to call for a special prosecutor, one is now warranted.
It has been reported that, following publication of information involving the killing of bin Laden, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recommended a new communications strategy for the president's national security team. He delivered his proposal in a concise, four-word message: "Shut the (expletive) up."
Take the advice already.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-15th District, is a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and a former member of the Committee on Homeland Security.