Playing Politics With National Security

To summarize: Lewis “Scooter” Libby gets 2 and 1/2 years for lying to a grand jury, and obstructing justice, in a case involving the supposed “outing” of a covert CIA agent. Yet, Richard Armitage, a State Dept. politico who admitted leaking the name to the press, causing the whole episode, has yet to be charged.

Follow the logic here. The alleged crime, which was never proven in court, was on the one hand so serious that a man must be sent to jail for the crime of not being able to recall exactly, three years later, what he said about it and when; and on the other hand, not so serious that a man who admitted to committing the crime, which was known to the Special Prosecutor early on, should be charged with anything.

There is a word for this, that the media knows well: scandalous.

Now, I am not defending Libby here; I had never heard of the guy until this investigation ramped up. I’m defending common sense, and practicality, and proportionate responses, and not playing politics with national security, none of that is in evidence here.

In my mind, it simply is not possible to both (1) convict somebody for obstructing justice and (2) ignore the original crime that caused the injustice. Or, more accurately, it is not possible to retain credibility under those conditions. Duly noted.

And what is worse, the media has largely ignored Armitage but focused on Libby with a laser-like intensity, and done this so effectively that the average news consumer has no idea that it was actually Armitage who leaked it, or even who he is and why it would matter. The fact that he was a State Dept. lackey, working to undermine the White House (with Colin Powell), would of course require acknowledgement that there is a power struggle between State and the White House. Fat chance of that.

So congratulations to Richard Armitage and the State Dept. for undermining a wartime president, and playing politics with national security. You must be so proud. And you must think we are all a bunch of morons who either can’t understand what a power struggle looks like from the outside, or don’t care enough to follow it well enough to draw some conclusions about who is trying to protect us, and who is not.

Compare that episode with this one: former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger chose to yield his license to practice law as punishment for stealing and destroying highly classified documents from the National Archives. No jail time. No media hounding. No extensive Justice Department investigation.

The documents related directly to national security discussions with President Clinton surrounding terrorism and the response to the threat of Al Qaeda. From the Washington Times:

Mr. Berger, national security adviser from 1997 to 2001, was convicted of removing documents from the Archives in 2005 while preparing to testify before the September 11 commission.

Fined $50,000, sentenced to 100 hours of community service and barred from access to classified material for three years, he also was ordered to undergo a polygraph test if asked — although the Justice Department has declined to administer the test despite urging by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform.

In February, Mr. Davis called for a new investigation by the committee into the Berger theft, saying the Justice Department gave him a “free pass” in its investigation. In a terse letter signed by 17 Republicans, he said the department was “unacceptably incurious” about Mr. Berger’s visits to the Archives in May 2002 and July 2003 and never told the September 11 commission he removed original, uninventoried documents.

Sure, what useful information could an investigation into stealing and destroying classified documents possibly yield?

So here we are. Because of politics in the Special Prosecutors Office, and politics in the Justice Department, we fiddle while America burns. We have national security debates about who “outed” a CIA bureaucrat, rather than why the former National Security Adviser might steal documents related to his legacy.

“Unacceptably incurious”, indeed.

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