Leaks of sensitive information by the administration are apparently quite acceptable, even if it might jeopardize other covert operations or lives, just so long as it makes the administration look good in the press.
MSNBC’s host Rachel Maddow reviews the details of a CIA-involved assassination from 2008, reported for the first time in The Washington Post over the weekend, and wonders about the reason and timing of such sensitive, secret story being reported in the press.
CIA and Mossad killed senior Hezbollah figure in car bombing
By By Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima, January 30, 2015, Washington Post
On Feb. 12, 2008, Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s international operations chief, walked on a quiet nighttime street in Damascus after dinner at a nearby restaurant. Not far away, a team of CIA spotters in the Syrian capital was tracking his movements.
As Mughniyah approached a parked SUV, a bomb planted in a spare tire on the back of the vehicle exploded, sending a burst of shrapnel across a tight radius. He was killed instantly.
The device was triggered remotely from Tel Aviv by agents with Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, who were in communication with the operatives on the ground in Damascus. “The way it was set up, the U.S. could object and call it off, but it could not execute,” said a former U.S. intelligence official.
The United States helped build the bomb, the former official said, and tested it repeatedly at a CIA facility in North Carolina to ensure the potential blast area was contained and would not result in collateral damage. [..]
The United States has never acknowledged participation in the killing of Mughniyah, which Hezbollah blamed on Israel. Until now, there has been little detail about the joint operation by the CIA and Mossad to kill him, how the car bombing was planned or the exact U.S. role. With the exception of the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, the mission marked one of the most high-risk covert actions by the United States in recent years.
U.S. involvement in the killing, which was confirmed by five former U.S. intelligence officials, also pushed American legal boundaries.
Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran
Daid Sanger, June 1, 2012, The New York Times
From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.
Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks – begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games – even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.
At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.
John McCain demands leak investigation
By Austin Wright, June 5, 2012, Politico
Arizona Sen. John McCain on Tuesday demanded an investigation into the recent leaks of classified information on U.S. intelligence operations.
The ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who lost the 2008 presidential election to Barack Obama, accused the White House of leaking sensitive details on covert missions to The New York Times in order to “paint a portrait of the president of the United States as a strong leader on national security issues.”
McCain also said the Obama administration might have been responsible for blowing the cover of a Pakistani doctor who helped U.S. commandos locate Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The doctor, Shakil Afridi, has been sentenced by a Pakistani court to 33 years in prison.
“This is not a proud day for the United States of America,” McCain said in a fiery speech on the Senate floor. “Our friends are not the only ones who read The New York Times. Our enemies do too.”
McCain said Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) had agreed hold hearings on the issue. “Regardless of how politically useful they might have been to the president, they have to stop – the leaks have to stop,” McCain demanded.
The New York Times: These were not leaks
By Dylan Byers, June 7, 2012, Politico
Caught in the crosshairs of a contentious dispute between the White House and Congress, The New York Times is vowing to charge ahead with its coverage of developments in U.S. national security – and denying that the paper is on the receiving end of silver-platter leaks from the Obama administration.
“These are some of the most significant developments in national security in a generation,” Times managing editor Dean Baquet told POLITICO on Thursday, referring to his paper’s recent reports on the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes and cyberattacks. “We’re going to keep doing these stories.”
Following Sen. John McCain’s demand for an independent investigation into White House security leaks, Republicans and Democrats on both the House and Senate intelligence committees issued a joint statement on Wednesday calling on the Obama administration “to fully, fairly and impartially investigate” whether or not administration officials were responsible for leaking information that appeared in the recent Times’ articles.
But the fact that the White House has not raised complaints about the Times’ reports further stokes congressional concern that the administration was somehow involved in leaking the stories.
Condoleezza Rice Testifies on Urging The Times to Not Run Article
By Matt Apuzzo, January 15, 2015, New York Times
White House officials favor two primary tactics when they want to kill a news article, Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser, testified Thursday: They can essentially confirm the report by arguing that it is too important to national security to be published, or they can say that the reporter has it wrong.
Sitting across from a reporter and editor from The New York Times in early 2003, Ms. Rice said, she tried both.
Testifying in the leak trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer, Ms. Rice described how the White House successfully persuaded Times editors not to publish an article about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. James Risen, a Times reporter, ultimately revealed the program in his 2006 book, “State of War,” and said that the C.I.A. had botched the operation. Prosecutors used Ms. Rice’s testimony to bolster their case that the leak to Mr. Risen had harmed national security.
“This was very closely held,” Ms. Rice said. “It was one of the most closely held programs in my tenure as national security adviser.”
Ms. Rice’s account also threw a light on how the government pressures journalists to avoid publishing details about United States security affairs. It is a common practice that is seldom discussed.
C.I.A. Officer Is Found Guilty in Leak Tied to Times Reporter
By Matt Apuzzo, January 26, 2015, New York Times
Jeffrey A. Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, was convicted of espionage Monday on charges that he told a reporter for The New York Times about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.
The conviction is a significant victory for the Obama administration, which has conducted an unprecedented crackdown on officials who speak to journalists about security matters without the administration’s approval. Prosecutors prevailed after a yearslong fight in which the reporter, James Risen, refused to identify his sources.
The case revolved around a C.I.A. operation in which a former Russian scientist provided Iran with intentionally flawed nuclear component schematics. Mr. Risen revealed the operation in his 2006 book, “State of War,” describing it as a mismanaged, potentially reckless mission that may have inadvertently aided the Iranian nuclear program.
One can only surmise the reason for the need to release the Mossad/CIA assassination plot at this time.