The pattern emerges again: Obama says the right words, but his administration does the wrong thing
The news that the Obama administration fought to be able to access Fox News reporter James Rosen's emails over a long period of time underscores just how much the DOJ latched onto the theory that Rosen was a potential criminal.
Rosen was targeted by the DOJ for his communication with State Department adviser Stephen Kim, who allegedly leaked him information about North Korea's nuclear program. The DOJ infamously labeled Rosen a "co-conspirator" for his attempts to get the information from Kim. Rosen's personal emails were searched, and the records of five different phone lines used by Fox News were also surveilled. On Thursday, it emerged that Attorney General Eric Holder had personally signed off on the Rosen warrant.
President Obama said on Thursday that he worried the investigations would chill national security and investigative journalism, and that reporters should not be prosecuted for "doing their jobs." But his Justice Department apparently did not know this.
One of the most interesting exchanges to derive from this brouhaha may be found on the Brad Blog
. Brad wrote a piece which cited Glenn Greenwald's vigorous condemnation of the Obama administration cavalier attitude toward privacy. In response, a reader accused Greenwald of being close kin to Darrell Issa, the Republican Chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
This is, of course, the overheated rhetoric often employed by those who reduce all of politics to a simplistic game of shirts vs. skins, Us vs. Them. But Greenwald's response deserves to be quoted:
As for the "substance" of the commenter's accusations: what I said is 100% accurate. At the time Rosen published his article, barely anybody noticed it. It created almost no furor. Nobody suggested it was a leak that was even in the same universe as the big leaks of classified information over the last decade in terms of spilling Top Secret information into the public domain: the NYT's exposure of the Bush NSA and SWIFT programs, Dana Priest's uncovering of the CIA black site network, David Sanger's detailing of Obama's role in the Stuxnet attack on Iran, etc.
Nor has anyone claimed that this leak resulted in harm to anyone or blew anyone's cover. That's what makes it "innocuous": it's a run-of-the-mill leak that happens constantly in Washington, where government officials give classified information and intelligence reporting to DC journalists, who then print it. That happens all the time. All the time. And it has for decades.
All that's happening here is that Obama followers are doing what Bush followers constantly did to defend their leader: screaming "harm to national security!" to justify secrecy and attacks on the press. But there is no demonstrated harm to national security from this leak and nobody has remotely claimed it's anywhere near the level of leaks that prompted Bush officials threaten to prosecute journalists at the New York Times.
The effort to spy on Rosen resulted from a classic over-reaction, of the sort we've seen time and again in leak investigations. Someone in the administration saw Rosen's story, panicked at the apparent leak, and forgot one key fact: Nobody else cared
That said, I'm not sure I can fully agree with Greenwald. Does the information Kim passed along truly deserve the "run of the mill" label?
Let's remind ourselves of the reason for spying on Rosen. He had received information about the North Korean nuclear bomb from a State Department official named Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who was the real target of the probe. It is indeed true that such tattling is pretty common. Kim's lawyers have argued that Bob Woodward's books routinely include more important leaks.
Nevertheless, Kim has been charged under the Espionage Act. There may be more to this story than we have been told. It seems clear that someone in the administration feared that Kim had passed along a specific piece of data which could endanger a precariously-placed agent within the North Korean power structure.
Greenwald neglects to tell his readers one important fact: Rosen reported that his information originated not from a State Department official (Kim was merely a conduit), but from "CIA sources"
within the insular, despotic nation of North Korea.
Let us pause for a moment to contemplate the CIA's difficulty in cultivating sources within that
country. Let us pause for another moment to contemplate what would happen to that source if he were outed. Let us pause for a third moment to contemplate how easily the North Koreans might trace a leak to its ultimate origin point based on the slimmest of clues.
If you have paused and contemplated what I've asked you to contemplate, Holder's over-reaction becomes more understandable, if not quite excusable. One thing's for sure: You cannot honestly claim that Holder went after Rosen for ideological reasons.
Nevertheless, it appears that Roger Ailes
hopes to spin the matter in just that way:
“The administration’s attempt to intimidate Fox News and its employees will not succeed and their excuses will stand neither the test of law, the test of decency, nor the test of time,” Ailes wrote in the letter. “We will not allow a climate of press intimidation, unseen since the McCarthy era, to frighten any of us away from the truth.”
This rhetoric is pretty funny, coming from the guy who runs the network that promotes Ann Coulter, McCarthy's most vigorous defender and admirer.
The Watergate connection.
Previously, Rosen was best known for his 2008 book The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate
, which I have not read. That project, which Rosen worked on for 17 years, had an interesting origin:
In the late ’80s, as an undergraduate at John Hopkins University, Mr. Rosen studied political science. During the summer breaks, he worked at the Nixon Presidential Materials Project, the branch of the National Archives that controls the Nixon papers and tapes. After graduation, Mr. Rosen received a grant from the late William F. Buckley to begin working on the biography.
Many of my readers already know about Buckley's history with the CIA
. Given Buckley's involvement, you can probably guess Rosen's take on Watergate...
Instead, Mitchell is painted as a force for propriety who was framed by others—especially White House counsel John Dean, who comes off as Watergate's evil genius. (Rosen also claims Watergate burglar James McCord was secretly working for the CIA and deliberately sabotaged the break-in.)
Here's my guess: Once it became clear that the Silent Coup
thesis would fly only so far, an old spookworld functionary tasked young Rosen to fly it further.
Over the decades, a lot of people on both the right and
the left have voiced suspicions that McCord intentionally "bungled" the Watergate burglary. Personally, I think that his great "oopsie" came at the behest of Richard Helms. But...did Dean order the break-in? I strongly
So far, the best riposte to Rosen's book I could find is this one
Billed as a biography, The Strong Man reads more like a polemic. Rosen elevates Mitchell's standing at the bar (his bond practice, this book unpersuasively insists, put him "among the nation's most elite lawyers"). The author exaggerates the good that Mitchell did as attorney general ("to ensure racial progress he did more than any executive branch official of the twentieth century," Rosen claims -- overlooking, among others, Burke Marshall, the Kennedy-Johnson civil rights chief who led the effort to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act). Rosen does this to boost the credibility of his restoration project, but his hype accomplishes the opposite.
In the annals of Watergate, the slush-fund story was the beginning of the end. In a 2005 Vanity Fair article, Bernstein recalled that when he learned that Mitchell was one of the keepers of the secret fund used to pay the Watergate burglars, he turned to Bob Woodward and said: "Oh my God, this president is going to be impeached." In her memoir, Personal History, Katharine Graham said she was "shocked" that the attorney general's response was "so personal and offensive." But Rosen contends that Mitchell's distress was genuine and justified because the Post story was "dead wrong." Mitchell "never knew about, let alone 'controlled,' any secret fund used to finance 'intelligence operations' against the Democrats," he writes.
Perhaps Rosen has his own definitions of "control," "secret" and "intelligence operations." Otherwise, his revisionism, at this point, has crossed over to an alternate universe. A month after the Post story, Mitchell's successor as head of CREEP, Clark MacGregor, admitted there was a cash fund from which five men, including Mitchell, were authorized to get money. In his acclaimed book Nightmare, J. Anthony Lukas reported that Mitchell approved the use of $250,000 for gathering "intelligence" on the Democratic Party. Rosen acknowledges that most historians share Lukas's line. He takes another.
Richard Nixon once said to David Frost: “If it hadn’t been for Martha Mitchell, there’d have been no Watergate.” Martha was John's wife, and she was pretty famous in her own right. If you want a few clues as to why Nixon would utter such words, start here
Did James Rosen (or whoever set him on his 17-year literary adventure) have an ax to grind? Or was he just ambitious? As Arthur Sullivan might have put it:
He polished that bio so carefully
That now he is a talking head on Fox teevee...
When the Rosen affair first became public, my initial reaction was that the Fox Newsers seem to have established their own spy network within spy-dom. Now that I've learned more about Rosen, I don't feel inclined to rescind that gut reaction.