According to an article this morning on FoxNews.com, the Pentagon is investigating the leak of a classified slide on the Iraq war that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times. The slide, which gives a color-coded depiction of the current conflict, offers a sobering assessment of the internal deterioration and belies the Bush administration’s positive public outlook.
The Pentagon’s investigation of the Times marks the third instance in a year in which the paper has come under fire for publishing classified intelligence, with critics arguing that the public release of the information hinders the administration’s efforts in the war on terror. For these commentators, the Times’ actions are regarded as nothing less than an affront to American interests.
“I want to know whether there is any level of national secret the Times is not willing to betray for the political advantage of its pet causes,” writes Mario Loyola at National Review’s the Corner. “And I would like to know what else they may have doctored on the slide. And while we’re at it, I would love to understand why the law doesn’t prohibit the propagation of strategic national secrets in wartime — which has always been understood as treason.”
Noting the relative insignificance of this leak as compared to, say, the ones regarding the NSA’s secret spying program, some bloggers found themselves unimpressed by the Pentagon’s latest bout of pugnacity.
Writes Confederate Yankee: “News flash to the Pentagon: This is kinda like letting someone break into your house, steal your valuables and rough up your family, only to get pissed off when they trample on the grass while leaving. If the government wants to start nailing those who leak classified information during a time of war, they should start with the most important cases, not much less important ones such as this.”
Others, however, saw little concern for national security and a whole lot of concern for politics.
“It is not exactly a secret that Iraq is disintegrating and spiraling towards civil war, any more than it was a secret that the Bush administration eavesdrops on the conversations of suspected terrorists or monitors their banking transactions,” adds Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory. “What they are furious about — and want to threaten and even imprison people for — is not any harm to national security, but harm to the political interests of the Bush movement.”
For many liberal commentators, the report provided even more evidence that the administration refuses to publicly acknowledge the reality on the ground in Iraq.
Writes Intel Dump: “It heartens me somewhat to see this slide presented in such a clear, unvarnished way as part of a briefing at the Central Command level. Presumably, a version of this has been presented to the secretary of defense, the joint chiefs, and the president. They need to hear this sort of truth — they need to understand the reality of Iraq as it is today, not as they would like it to be. However, what disturbs me is the disconnect between the picture presented by this slide, and the assessments offered in recent days by the president, vice president, and secretary of defense. I think the truth lies much closer to the CENTCOM assessment, and I am deeply troubled by the manipulation of that truth.”
With an administration passionately devoted to protecting its many secrets and a newspaper with a knack for revealing them, the tug of war over classified information will no doubt continue. But what many bloggers seem loathe to admit is that, unlike previous leaks, the current one does not merit a debate over whether terrorists can actively take advantage of declassified information. Rather, by portraying the Pentagon’s honest evaluation of the conflict, the leaked slide provides the public with a clear window through a brick wall of spin. In a war defined almost as much by its public relations battles as its military ones, it is the media’s duty to cut through the war of fog — let’s just hope they can continue doing so.