Does intel have an axe to grind?

Since the Plame controversy, and all the subsequent articles that have been sourced to “unnamed intelligence sources” about renditions of suspected terrorists and domestic NSA spying, many have commented that it appears that there is a rift between the Bush administration and the intelligence gathering establishment. While occasional leaks are normal, the flood of leaked info that – on its face – casts the current administration in a negative light doesn’t seem to be coincidence. Pundits on the left have interpreted these leaks as coming from people of conscience sick of bullying by the white house while those from the right view the intelligence leakers as ineffective bureaucrats retaliating for post 9/11 shakeups. What if it’s something more simple than that?
In my field one of the biggest career risks is to acquire skills based on technologies that die. For example before 2003, numerically most people who developed windows applications used Visual Basic and then very rapidly – companies switched to .Net. In most cases VB developers with many years of experience went from being highly valued to requiring assistance from recent college grads for even the most basic programming tasks. Those who couldn’t adapt were demoted or let go. Is it possible that something similar is happening with the intelligence organizations? Imagine if you busted your ass for learning Russian and all the ins and outs of the Soviet regime only to see the cold war end and Democratic Russia turn out mostly okay? How would it feel instead of being an agent in Moscow to be a desk jockey (like Plame) with all the best assignments going to people less experienced but with the right skill sets? After years of high risk and crap pay only to be thanked by getting warehoused in an office somewhere there may be some intelligence folks that are understandably resentful and want to be in the limelight again(Plame). This doesn’t excuse them for potentially violating national security laws but it seems to be more likely than some of the more extreme scenarios being discussed in the media.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Hmmm. Not a bad theory, assuming there is an axe to grind.

But in the end I wonder if the motive of these leaks isn't irrelevant. If the information that is leaked is really that damaging, isn't it a good thing that it is leaked? The Bush administration has shown itself quite adept at deflecting most accusations brought by the infamous "unnamed" source. Or adaptable in a politically appropriate way for others. I don't care about the charges that don't stick, because more often than not they don't stick for a reason, i.e., they're weak or even groundless. The Plame/Wilson thing wouldn't have been an issue if Bush's people hadn't made it one. Those two would have been eventually discredited or ignored, but unfortunately the veracity of their charges has been lost in the fog of the ensuing scandal.

It's the stuff like the NSA spying leak that I'm interested in, because it has complexity and, in the end, asks tough quesitons. In this case, about the extents of the power of the executive branch. Check out Orin Kerr's analysis of the case from the Volkoh Conspiracy. This wouldn't have been an issue without the leaker, who leaks at their own peril if what they say is found to be baseless.