By Ryan J. Reilly
Two former government whistleblowers who have been extremely critical of the Obama administration’s unprecedented leak prosecutions tell TPM they don’t believe the Justice Department’s investigation into recent disclosures of classified national security information can be credible.
Attorney General Eric Holder named Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein and D.C. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen to head the probe into recent leaks. While DOJ hasn’t disclosed the topic of the leak investigations, they are believed to be connected to stories about drone strikes, the ‘kill list’ and a computer virus attack on Iran’s nuclear program.
“I don’t think that investigation is going to lead anywhere, I think it’s a complete conflict of interest,” Jesselyn Radack, National Security and Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, told TPM.
“Obviously some of these leaks come from the Justice Department, so if there were going to be a somewhat legitimate leak investigation, there would need to be a special counsel,” said Radack, who back in 2002 gave copies of emails she sent telling the FBI they couldn’t interview an American terrorism suspect without a lawyer present to Newsweek.
Thomas Drake, a former top official with the National Security Agency charged with allegedly leaking classified information to a reporter (the case fell apart, but Drake pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of “exceeding authorized use of a computer”), told TPM he didn’t think the investigation could be independent if conducted by federal prosecutors who answer to Holder.
“They’re beholden to DOJ. It’s too tinged by the politics of the larger story here,” Drake said, calling DOJ’s decision to appoint the federal prosecutors “reactive” to political pressure rather than a proactive measure.
“By definition, they’re not really independent because they work for the Department of Justice. Special counsel is a whole different matter, but I don’t think the White House wants to go there, nor does DOJ, because special counsel has far greater reach and far greater independence,” Drake said. “I think they’re a little gun shy because of the Valerie Plame case.”
Drake said Republicans were making “political hay” because they can put the administration in a corner.
“We’ll just say the ‘if’ question: if there were a leak and if it were authorized, that would mean they were doing it for literally no other reason than political gain,” Drake said. “There was no other reason to talk about those operations other than for political gain.”
Even though Radack was harassed by the DOJ during the Bush administration after she took a job at a law firm, she says the Obama administration has been “horrible” against leakers.
“People would think I would be happy now that the administration is getting its comeuppance, I’m not,” Radack told TPM. “I think launching even more leak investigations is a really bad idea.”
In her new position Radack has worked for six individuals who have been the target of a leak investigation, two of whom have been indicted. She said the Justice Department’s record “stands in sharp relief to the administration leaking like a sieve about very high-level classified information about sources and methods from the kill list to Stuxnet to the Osama bin Laden raid to the memo authorizing the assassination of an American.”
Both Radack and Drake drew a distinction between whistleblowers disclosing information about government wrongdoing and the more commonplace disclosure of classified information that seems to be done for political gain.
“Just because someone waved their magic wand and made it an authorized leak — which I consider an oxymoron — that doesn’t take away from the serious nature of leaking. Other than for political gain, I can’t see why this information would be leaking out,” Radack said. “Certainly cooperating with Hollywood to make a film about Osama bin Laden seems to be done for political gain. The administration seemed happy to be talking about it and bragging about it and cooperating with Hollywood about it. It’s hard to say that’s not for political gain.”
Drake particularly said he was “astonished” by the amount of information that came out about the bin Laden raid and said he couldn’t condone that type of leaking.
“They couldn’t help themselves, they were just chortling in public about all this. I mean, I’m very familiar with a lot of that shadow ops from my background, you don’t talk about that stuff. Those types of operations are really deep cover, there are a lot of them, many of them are covert. You just don’t start talking about that stuff,” Drake said. “Clearly, someone has decided, very high-level — officially or unofficially or wink-wink-nod-nod — we’re going to share this with the public.”