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If the President does it, it isn’t treason

This morning the New York Times, NPR and the BBC have all been discussing details of communications between senior Al Qaeda leaders which form the basis for closing numerous US, UK and other embassies worldwide. A New York Times article on the subject is typical:

The Obama administration’s decision last week to close nearly two dozen diplomatic missions and issue a worldwide travel alert came after the United States intercepted electronic communications in which the head of Al Qaeda ordered the leader of the group’s affiliate in Yemen to carry out an attack as early as this past Sunday, according to American officials.

Additional detail is given later in that article and in dozens of others from numerous news organizations. They know these details only because they were leaked said details by sources inside the Obama administration.

These details are clearly useful to Al Qaeda. They inform the leadership of that organization in no uncertain terms of US intercept capabilities, alerting them to the need to change their communications methods.

Had an Edward Snowden or a Bradley Manning revealed such information, it would be called “treason” by many commentators. Charges would be pressed in court of “aiding the enemy”.

When the leak is official and far more damaging, no one mentions treason. Instead, this is simply business as usual.

News headlines do not focus on questions about the identity of the suspected leaker. The leaker or leakers will not have to flee to foreign countries to evade prosecution, even though the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. That is because the leak is clearly authorized at the highest levels, never mind that it may have just “burned” a vital intelligence source in the process.

One may wonder why the Obama administration has chosen to leak such information to the press. That is an open secret. The New York Times first article on the subject some days ago has, buried within it, the following paragraph, a paragraph that should by all rights be the lead:

Some analysts and Congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the N.S.A.’s data-collection programs, and that if it showed the intercepts had uncovered a possible plot, even better.

In other words, aiding the enemy is fine provided it is in the service of fighting the actual joint enemy of Al Qaeda and the Obama administration, to wit, the general public.

15 comments to If the President does it, it isn’t treason

  • Given that this is something coming out of the White House and reported as fact by the New York Times, I think there’s actually a good chance that it’s a lie.

  • Laird

    “If the President does it, it isn’t treason.”

    I think that was Nixon’s argument, too. He and Obama are remarkably similar, aren’t they?

  • The moment I read about the embassy closures *due to intercepted communications* it was occured to me there were two explanations for this extraordinary disclosure of methods and techniques…

    1. the whole thing is a lie cooked up by the PR department and nothing was actually intercepted (and therefore nothing but disinformation was given to Al-Qaeda, who are presumably now trying to figure out who the hell was blabbering about what on some unsecured line somewhere) and it was done to counter the hugely damaging Snowdon disclosures by providing “justification for pervasive SIGINT and an example of it working”.

    2. it is true and never mind that Al-Qaeda now know the sort of signals that can be intercepted, the political threat to the NSA was judged more important that its ability to secretly intercept Al-Qaeda chatter and so the reasons behind the embassy closures were trumpeted to all.

    Take your pick.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Responding to both: “Given that this is something coming out of the White House and reported as fact by the New York Times, I think there’s actually a good chance that it’s a lie.” and Primary Samizdata Perry’s comment:

    We have two possibilities: either the administration is committing the crime of “aiding the enemy” in order to manipulate public opinion, or it is lying while attempting to convince us that it is committing the crime of “aiding the enemy” in order to manipulate public opinion.

    Pretty, isn’t it?

  • llamas

    Considering how laughably-inept US/Western intelligence is in this arena (consistently fails to identify real threats, consistently identifies non-threats as real) I’m afraid that my default response now is that they are wrong or misled – because they almost-always are.

    I think this latest nonsense is tail-wagging – but with an added twist.

    It may be a classic ‘Wag the Dog’ scenario – fabricated by the US to direct public attantion away from domestic issues (take your pick).

    Or it may be what I have suggested here before – the enemy tail wagging the US dog. I have noted that it seems like about every 6 to 9 months, there is one of these panty-wetting outbreaks of hysteria, complete with huge US over-reaction. I believe that the enemy has mastered the art of getting the US to dance to their tune, and that it has now become something of a sport with them – let’s see who can get the US to jump the highest for the least amount of actual resources. In this case, mass hysteria in response to what amounts to nothing more than increased e-mail and telephone-call volume.

    Of the two, I actually suspect the first, and for a specific reason – this administration has the tendency to ‘mirror’ its activities, by which I mean it accuses its opponents of doing what it is itself doing. And the louder it accuses others, the more-likely I think it is that it is doing the same thing itself. It’s a guilty-knowledge thing. When I see the President and his acolytes lecturing us long, loud and repeatedly about ‘phoney scandals’, I’m afraid my default reaction now is to say ‘Hmmm. What phoney story is it that he’s ginned up to mislead us all?’ And – hey presto – there it is!



  • Langer

    Is Friday’s Benghazi disclosure already forgotten or did it go unnoticed? Regardless, it’s all about distracting us from the “phony scandals.” Of course Obama can count on the complicit media promoting the diversion of the day.

  • Antoine Clarke

    In the great TV series Yes Minister, leaking was defined as “an irregular verb”:

    “I brief;
    You leak;
    He/she gets prosecuted under Sections 1 and 2 of the Official Secrets Act.”

  • Laird

    Perry de H, I choose #2. #1 credits them with too much cleverness and ability.

  • The repulsive Chuck Schumer thinks Edward Snowden is evil and Putin is a bully for not handing over Snowden, so presumably Schumer has no problem with the governmetnt spying on its citizens.

    Schumer, however, also grandstands about the alleged privacy threat from Internet-ready TVs. What a ****ing evil hypocrite.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    In addition to his other qualities, which you have just alluded to, Charles Schumer is a weathervane of the worst possible sort.

    However, if you want to see something that will really make you want to stop reading the comments of politicians altogether, I suggest examining the words of Congressman Peter King. Now there is a truly astonishing individual. Reputedly he is seeking higher office, possibly even the Presidency, in the not that distant future.

  • the other rob

    Would that be Peter King, the IRA terrorism sympathizer?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    He claims that his IRA ties have been quote “entirely distorted” unquote.

  • the other rob

    You’re quite correct. “Sympathizer” was far too weak a word.

  • Paul Marks

    The nearest British example of such a thing might be Stanley Baldwin (during a heated debate in the House of Commons) crying out that “we know that there is subversion going on Britain, because we have broken their codes and we have read what they say about their agents of influence….”

    Oddly enough the Soviets promptly changed their codes – and their future agents (Kim Philby and co) were able to do vast damage.

    But this was not a politician losing his head in the middle of a heated argument…

    This was COLD BLOODED.

    The Obama Administration decided to reveal its sources (thus making them worthless – and putting lives at risk) to win a few political points.

    Obama and co decided to do this – a considered choice (not a hot headed moment during an argument).

    This is indeed giving “aid and comfort to the enemy”.

    And a Federal judge (after request from Congress) should instruct armed U.S. Marshalls to arrest President Barack Obama so that he may be brought to trial.

    It will not happen – there is no chance of it.

    But it should happen.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – the Obama Administration (as a matter of policy) regularly leaks to favoured media outlets – such as the New York Times.

    Indeed this is one of the reasons the New York Times remains in business (in spite of being badly written, boring, as well as far left in its politics).

    “Read the NYT and get secret information you can not get elsewhere”.

    Get secret information that Obama and co have GIVEN to the NYT – regardless of how many American (and American allied) people they put at risk of their lives.

    Some dare call it “treason”.

    And I am one of those who do.