I emphatically agree with every word of David’s post on the disgrace that is Obama’s commutation of Bradley Manning’s richly deserved 35-year (a sentence that is in fact lenient under the circumstances, as David explains). I want to add three points.
First, it is also disgraceful for the New York Times to report without balance that “Prosecutors … presented no evidence that anyone was killed because of [Manning’s] leaks.” As the Times well knows, in cases involving classified information, the government frequently cannot reveal – let alone prosecute – the damage done. As a practical matter, such revelations end up disclosing more classified information and, critically, identifying other informants and countries who have covertly provided national-security assistance to the United States. That is why it is always a gimmee for apologists of the Mannings, Snowdens, and Clintons to minimize the harm they have done; it is generally impossible to provide concrete information to counter this claim absent exposing more intelligence and endangering sources for obtaining it.
Second, there is a logical way to deduce the damage caused. I laid it out in a column about Hillary Clinton’s reckless mishandling of our nation’s secrets:
In The Snowden Operation: Inside the West’s Greatest Intelligence Disaster, Edward Lucas, a longtime Economist senior editor and student of intelligence operations, explains in vivid detail how “the mere whiff of a breach acts like nerve poison on intelligence agencies.”
Take just a single document that contains a defense secret, or conveys the method or source by which secrets are acquired. If the agency discovers the document has been lost, or comes to “believe an unauthorised person has had access to it, assumptions must be of worst-case scenarios.” What could a hostile government or terror network do with that information? Will they kill an intelligence agent who has been outed? What about operatives the agent has been running – who must then be pulled out to avoid arrest, or worse? Even if our spies are safe, their operation must be considered blown, along with arrangements on which the operation relied – cooperating businesses, bank accounts, safe houses, drop boxes, etc.
Then there is the matter of when the compromise occurred. Can we be sure of the time? Remember: It is worst-case analysis. If the agency can’t be sure, it must assume the earliest point. Does that mean the agency has been victimized by counterintelligence? Did the hostile government or terror network feed the agency misleading information and then monitor the results? Is the precious intelligence the agency thought it was collecting actually corrupted? Have security policies based on the intelligence actually endangered us? Have they been expensive wastes of money and effort?
As Lucas notes, “The answers to these questions may be ‘no.’ But an experienced team of counter-intelligence officers must ask them, find the answers, check and double-check. The taint of even a minor breach must be analysed, contained, and cleaned.”
Bear in mind, we’re still talking about a single breach. How about two? The corrective measures quickly become nightmarish. The danger metastasizes if the breaches come from different components of the intelligence community. And the challenge cannot be wished away by telling oneself that the compromised information is not all that significant. A document that seems harmless enough can be devastating when combined with another – read together they may reveal a collection technique that is of far greater consequence than the information on the page.
As Lucas elaborates,
Multiple breaches increase the problem exponentially. Each bit of compromised information must be assessed not only on its own, but in relation to every other piece of data. As the numbers mount, the math becomes formidable. Four bits of information have 24 possible combinations. Seven have 5,040. Ten have more than three million.
Third, the degree to which Obama has wielded executive power in favor of America’s enemies and against his own political opponents and scapegoats is breathtaking. The treasonous Manning gets an 80 percent shave off his sentence. Now we learn Oscar Lopez-Rivera, an unrepentant FALN terrorist convicted of waging war against the United States, has also had his sentence commuted. Taliban commanders are released, replenishing our jihadist enemies even as they continue prosecuting a terrorist war against our troops and allies, in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, a deserter who may, at least indirectly, have caused the deaths of American soldiers. Iran is enriched and empowered with tens of billions of dollars – including ransom cash – and a mammoth nuclear energy program (with the certainty that it will yield a nuclear weapons stockpile) even as it remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism calling for “death to America.”
But if you are Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative Obama critic, the Justice Department inflates an administrative violation into multiple felonies and aggressively advocates (thankfully, without success) for a stiff prison sentence. If you are a tea party group gearing up to fight Obama’s re-election, here comes the IRS. If you are “anti-Muslim video producer” Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Obama needs a scapegoat for his derelictions in Benghazi, you end up in the slammer. If you are a deep-pocketed financial institution that Obama wants to make the culprit for the government-driven financial meltdown, or to raid so the radical left’s legion of “community organizers” can be funded, prepare to pony up a 9- or 10-figure “settlement.” If you are a police department, be ready to be scandalized as a practitioner of racially malicious enforcement. If you are Israel, brace for the “international outlaw” smear.
There are still 53 hours left. Who knows what other parting shots Obama has in store?
A version of this piece also appeared on National Review Online.