From the earliest days of RN’s administration he was plagued with leaks of highly classified material that ended up in the media.
RN condemned the leaks as undermining his ability to end the war and conduct the nation’s foreign policy.
The anti-war establishment justified them as acts of conscience, and the media celebrated them as examples of a free press at work and doing its very best.
Now everything old is new again, and it will be interesting to see how President Obama deals with the leaks that are already causing him problems. The most serious appeared today as a story by Bob Woodward on the front page of the Washington Post:
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict “will likely result in failure,” according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.
Gen Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”
His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.
How will —how can?— the President maintain his former equanimity regarding leaks now that he is actually in charge and his policies will be at risk because of them? Will the goose sauce he dished out so liberally as a Senator and a candidate be so tasty now that he’s the gander?
RN knew how the accumulation of leaks had driven LBJ into an increasingly narrow corner.
In RN, he vividly recalled his visit with Johnson at the White House on 12 December 1968:
I sat on one of the sofas in front of the fireplace in the Oval Office while he sat in the king-size rocking chair that he had brought in to replace Kennedy’s smaller one…..
Jabbing his finger at my chest, his voice raised, he said, “Let me tell you, Dick, I would have been a damn fool to have discussed major decisions with the full Cabinet present, because I knew that if I said something in the morning, you could sure as hell bet it would appear in the afternoon papers. It’s the same thing with the National Security Council. Everybody there’s got their damned deputies and note-takers with them sitting along the wall. I will warn you now, the leaks can kill you.”
But RN didn’t take LBJ’s advice to hunker down and only deal with a minimum of aides; and he was soon being threatened with the death of a thousand leaks.
The leaks began almost with the start of my administration, and before long I experienced firsthand the anger, worry, and frustration that Johnson had described. In the first five months of my presidency at least twenty-one major stories based on leaks from materials in the NSC files appeared in New York and Washington newspapers. A CIA report listed forty-five newspaper articles in 1969 that contained serious breaches of secrecy.
Within a matter of days after the NBS held its first meeting on the Middle East on February 1, the details of the discussion that had taken place were leaked to the press. Eisenhower, whom I had personally briefed on this meeting, considered any leak of classified foreign policy information, whether in war or peace, treasonable. When he saw the news story he telephoned Kissinger and warned him in no uncertain terms. “Tighten your shop,” he said. “Get rid of people if you have to, but don’t let this go on.”
Not only did it go on; a trickle became a tsunami.
Today, forty years later, leaks are an inevitable part of the Washington scene, where agendas and egos first mix, then match, and then go looking for a friendly reporter.
It will be interesting to see how the Democrats, so long used to enjoying the leaks undermining and embarrassing the Republicans, will handle this particular reality of the power they now possess.