Thursday, April 19, 2018
Editorials

Hunting leaks as political theater

President Barack Obama doth protest too much when he insists no one in his administration leaked sensitive classified information regarding the government's role in the Stuxnet cyber attacks to disrupt Iran's budding nuclear program. Or the secret "kill list" targeting the assassination of suspected terrorists. Or the infiltration of an al-Qaida terrorist cell plotting to plant a bomb on a U.S.-bound airliner. Of course the information can be tracked back to Obama's intelligence team. The media reporting on each case has acknowledged as much. But ferreting out the identities of the leakers promises to be a futile task that only wastes taxpayer money in a protracted and fruitless partisan political fight that will invariably lead to First Amendment issues over protecting the identities of confidential sources.

There is no good way to pursue politically motivated investigations of news leaks. An investigation ordered up by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will be decried as a conflict-of-interest cover-up. If history is any guide, the naming of an independent counsel, as Republicans demand, would likely consume years of work, cost millions and produce precious little to show for the effort. If Republicans in Congress are interested in exposing the source of the leaked material, they have the wherewithal to take on the messy task.

Since the founding of the republic presidents have been vexed by leaked information. George Washington's secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, and his treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, were notorious leakers promoting their interests. And nothing has changed over time. Some leaks are motivated by altruism, others to score a political advantage. It should surprise no one that the leaks surrounding the sabotage of the Iranian nuclear program, the killing of terrorism suspects, or the ability to infiltrate a terrorist group were meant to bolster Obama's national security bona fides in a tough election year.

Since the debate over the leaked material is inherently partisan, congressional Republicans should feel free to indulge their faux outrage by holding hearings on the disclosures. In all likelihood, nothing will come from all the political theater, except perhaps even more leaks.

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