"Securitygate" — the Administration's Release of Covert Details of the War on Terror is Far More Serious than either Watergate or Iran-Contra

by VICTOR DAVIS HANSON June 18, 2012

In the Watergate scandal, no one died, at least that we know of. Richard Nixon tried systematically to subvert institutions. Yet most of his unconstitutional efforts were domestic in nature - and an adversarial press soon went to war against his abuses and won, as Congress held impeachment hearings.

As far as national security went, Nixon's crimes were in part culpable for destroying the political consensus that he had won in 1972, at a critical time when the Vietnam War to save the south was all but over, and had been acknowledged as such at the Paris Peace Talks. But Watergate and the destruction of Nixon's foreign policy spurred congressional cutbacks of aid to South Vietnam and eroded all support for the administration's promised efforts to ensure that North Vietnam kept to its treaty obligations.

Iran-Contra was as serious because there was a veritable war inside the Reagan administration over helping insurgents with covert cash that had in part been obtained by, despite denials, selling arms to enemy Iran to free hostages - all against U.S. laws and therefore off the radar. The Reagan administration was left looking weak, hypocritical, incompetent, and amoral - and never quite recovered. Yet even here the media soon covered the story in detail, and their disclosures led to several resignations and full congressional hearings.

Quite Different

What I call "Securitygate" - the release of the most intricate details about the cyber war against Iran, the revelations about a Yemeni double-agent, disclosures about covert operations in and against Pakistan, intimate details about the Osama bin Laden raid and the trove of information taken from his compound, and the Predator drone assassination list and the president's methodology in selecting targets - is far more serious than either prior scandal. David Sanger and others claim that all this was sort of in the public domain anyway; well, "sort of" covers a lot of ground. We sort of knew about the cyber war against Iran, but not to the detail that Sanger provides and not through the direct agency of the Obama administration itself.

Here is the crux of the scandal: Obama is formulating a new policy of avoiding overt unpopular engagements, while waging an unprecedented covert war across the world. He's afraid that the American people do not fully appreciate these once-secret efforts and might in 2012 look only at his mishaps in Afghanistan or his public confusion over Islamic terror. Ergo, feed information to a Sanger or Ignatius so that they can skillfully inform us, albeit with a bit of dramatic "shock" and "surprise," just how tough, brutal, and deadly Barack Obama really is.

Yet these disclosures will endanger our national security, especially in the case of a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. They will probably get people killed or tortured, and they will weaken America's ability for years to work covertly with allies. Our state-to-state relations will be altered, and perhaps even the techniques and technology of our cyber and special operations wars dispersed into the wrong hands. There is nothing in the recent "exclusive" writings of David Sanger or David Ignatius that was necessary for the American people to know at this stage, unless one thinks that we had a right to the full story of the Doolittle Raid in 1942, or that Americans by July 1944 needed an insider account of the date and planning of D-Day, or that we should have been apprised about what was really going on in New Mexico in 1944.

Here is why Securitygate is a national outrage and goes to the heart of a free and civil society.

National Security

Iran probably knew of U.S. covert involvement against its nuclear facilities, but now it knows that that the entire world also knows. There is no more plausible deniability on our part. The information about the nature of the cyber war is so detailed, the partnership with the Israelis rendered so complex, and the disclosures about technology and technique so explicit, that the Iranians will not only better defend themselves, but use these details to encourage and support even more terror against the United States. How ironic that Obama once called Guantanamo al-Qaeda's "chief recruiting tool" only to keep it open, and instead give them a real recruiting tool in the disclosure of the inner workings of the war on terror.

Pakistan is a veritable enemy and Iran an explicit one. But now both will recite endlessly David Sanger's catalog of our efforts to subvert them, and claim any new anti-American efforts on their part were simply justified tit-for-tat. Why would the Gulf states help us, when they come off as brutal supporters of the old doomed dictatorships? Europe and our allies no doubt knew all about predators and the cyber war, but their publics did not. Expect even more anti-Americanism, as our enemies decry targeted assassinations and efforts at subverting governments.

George W. Bush turned off the world by waterboarding three known and confessed terrorists - with help from the American Left who publicized that fact hourly for eight years. Barack Obama, we now read, has not only personally selected several hundred suspected terrorists for airborne execution, but alternates between reading their terrorist biographies and theology as he picks who lives and who dies. I am sure Catholic theologians appreciate the fact that St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine bulked up the American president's fortitude when he chose to press the kill button over Waziristan. Crude presidents watch Patton or wear flight suits under "Mission Accomplished" banners; sophisticated metrosexual wartime Presidents read theology. I am surprised only that we did not hear from leaks that Obama had read these didactic texts in the original Latin.

Is the world to be outraged that Russia sends war material to Syria or Iran arms to Hezbollah - when it matter-of-factly now reads that almost all communications inside Pakistan are intercepted? Do we need to know that the U.S. warped medical vaccination programs to gain information about bin Laden - right out of a scene from the film Man on Fire? I bet the Gates Foundation and other American philanthropic organizations will appreciate the doubt that will now be cast on their own vaccination efforts. In the world war of ideas, we accuse Iran of wanting to wipe out Israel and they now will accuse us of resorting even to manipulating vaccination programs for the sick and poor for our own national security.  Do we really need to know - or rather does the world need to know - that we sabotaged video cameras in Pakistan? Wait - I err in the use of the past tense: we are still sabotaging video and photographic equipment in Pakistan.

We live in dangerous times, with a war in Afghanistan, a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran, a duplicitous nuclear Pakistan, an estranged nuclear ally Israel, an Arab Spring gone haywire, a failed reset with Russia, and almost all of the above conniving over Syria. The work of National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, New York Times reporter David Sanger, and all their assorted subordinate reporters and Obama administration officials may well help to set off a conflagration unlike any in our time.




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