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May 16, 2005

Leak Soup

Admittedly, the stink over Newsweek's now-retracted story on alleged Koran flushing is a bit overwrought. Now that I think about it, where was Kevin Drum when Andres Serrano was dunking crucifixes in urine for art projects? Where *is* Atrios as Christians are being tortured and murdered in Sudan, China, and Saudi Arabia - did I miss his calls for the Islamacists and the Chi-Coms to respect the religion of the Christers? And now that I think about it... wait a minute... you mean we're supposed to be worried about disrespecting a book, many of whose adherents claim it directs the murder of gays and women who go out wearing something other than a G.P. Medium tent, with the fly pulled down? We're supposed to respect *that* book? This dichotomy raises some interesting questions about race and condescension.

But that shouldn't stop us from playing Washington's favorite parlor game: Guess the Leaker! Michelle Malkin is hot on the trail of the nameless source cited by Newsweek in their most recent unfounded slander of the Armed Forces. She seemed to focus earlier on Eric Saar, an enlisted interrogator who worked at Gitmo. As a Washington attorney, I'm a skeptic about that claim for a couple reasons. First, the claim was outright denied by Newsweek this afternoon.

Second, the source's wobbly-ness was admitted by Newsweek, and that wobbly-ness tells us a couple things. The source vacillated between making the the toilet claims, then backing off, then complete indecisiveness about what he knew or where he saw it in "reports." This indicates that the leaker isn't an inner circle person - not a political appointee or high ranking staffer (or communications clerk) with hands on dealings with Gitmo. Are abuses occurring at Gitmo? I'm sure there have been some, and I'm sure post-Abu Ghraib they are being dealt with, and are classed as "call home" issues requiring field commanders to keep DOD high mucky mucks apprised of the progress. In government, when the going gets tough, the senior leadership micromanages. If the source can't remember what he saw, then he's not in this circle of careful senior leaders, or their clerks and lawyers.

The other thing you can tell from the wobbly leak, is the individual is a blowhard, either a conscious liar, or a braggart type. A leaking lawyer would probably never say something that couldn't be at least arguably substantiated. It's too dangerous professionally to make an unsubstantiated assertion. Likewise, few higher level military folks are prone to similar misstatements. In the Officer and Noncommissioned Officer corps, a premium is placed on truth telling and honor, and most of these folks - senior ones especially - are circumspect in their speech. Even when they lie, they are careful. So I'd suspect the leaker is either a lower ranking non-com or commissioned officer, or more likely a government civilian from within the DOD or elsewhere.

The vague discussion of what the source knew, and mention of looking at a number of reports, is also a hint at the source's placement. Assuming the source actually had access to reports coming out of Gitmo, you have to ask what circumstances would cause him to kinda maybe remember seeing something about abuse, but not remember seeing particularly spectacular allegations. Again, this sounds like somebody who isn't read on to the situation, but who is observing from a distance and getting watered down, summary reports.

Within DOD, it's hard to keep a secret. DOD is pretty tightmouthed outside of DOD circles, but inside DOD, people talk. Everybody will tell anybody anything, provided the particular body in question is cleared to Top Secret, and buying the next round. It's not as leaky as that, but you can find things out if you are curious. So a source inside DOD would have no reason to be out of the loop, especially if they worked on the J-2 staff, or at one of the services' intel commands. The leaker is probably from outside of DOD.

This is possible because defense information is not restricted to the DOD. There is a whole second tier of communications on defense matters within the Executive Branch - you could call it the vetting loop. (General policy documents follow the same loop). When a contentious report that could create ripples is about to issue, it gets passed around between the headquarters of any affected Departments. In the case of Gitmo operations, DOD might pass reports to DOJ and FBI, and would certainly pass a lot of information to the Department of State and to their colleagues at the CIA. The stuff that gets circulated is often a bit vague on details, often voluminous, and usually circulated on very short notice. The formal purpose of the vetting is to allow affected Departments to comment and throw the brakes on if somebody is about to speak out of turn. The informal purpose of the Department circulating the information, is to do so on such a short turnaround, that the opportunity for meaningful comment is limited and the Department can get away with what it is trying to do, without any interference from other noseniks around the government. Consequently, a vast flow of reports shoots around the government at all times, and overworked staffers have to struggle to keep up with the pace.

A seat on the vetting loop would produce a well placed government source, who isn't really sure what was in a given report, thanks to the volume of reports and turnaround times. A source like this may have seen something about possible abuse of a Koran by an interrogator, or maybe it was a toilet blocked by a detainee. But ehy wouldn't be real sure, and would likely be subject to conflating some facts. I think the leaker came from somebody's headquarters.

Now who would have the motivation to do this?

Off the top of my head, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the CIA. They've been accused of using measures far more stern than the DOD has been accused of using. So they don't want any scrutiny of Gitmo.

The next likely suspect would be the State Department. Basically, most people working at State are Squishes, the careerists especially tend to hate Bush, and they hate to acknowledge that we would ever have to use military power or interrogations or anything ugly or forceful to accomplish U.S. goals. It's a very undisciplined Department, and they have no compunction about running amok, leaking, or trying to artfully win policy struggles using the media. They have also been in a running battle with the Department of Defense regarding the Gitmo detainees and the conduct of the war on terror in general. So a State leaker would make sense. The only reason I wouldn't presume the leaker is State Department, is that State usually doesn't get the kind of report that would get into the specific details of a couple incidents under investigation, especially when the investigation isn't the center of a major diplomatic flap.

That leaves the third likely suspect - DOJ and the FBI. The FBI, which appears to have absorbed the lessons of the Church Committee fully, is really upset about Gitmo. Determined to avoid another Church Committee, the Feebs have complained about pretty much every authorized DOD interrogation method, no matter how lawful or generally accepted. The Feebs, it seems, believe you can slap a subpoena on an Al Qaida member captured on the battlefield, and he'll talk. I exaggerate slightly here, but they are still peeved that DOD interrogators use "false flag" approaches, claiming to be with the FBI, or worse yet, the Israelis. The FBI has also reported, very publicly, all sorts of "abuses" by the military interrogators, including the false flag approaches, sleep deprivation, and so forth. I don't have direct personal knowledge of it, but I would surmise that the FBI has been cut out of the loop by the DOD, after their recent public protests. This would create a condition whereby the FBI would have some knowledge of what is happening at Gitmo thanks to inclusion on the vetting loop, but not detailed knowledge of abuses, and certainly nothing anybody would swear to in court. But it would be detailed enough to leak, as long as the reporter didn't call your bluff. The Feebs, like the CIA, also have an office in Gitmo.

So that's where I'd put my money, were I a gambling man. The Feebs, or Mr. Saar. But Newsweek denied Saar's involvement, so I'll give him the benefit of a doubt.

Posted by Blackavar at May 16, 2005 09:53 PM | TrackBack
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