Why the Administration Outed Its Own Al Qaeda Mole

In late 2001, the president and vice president each announced that they wouldn’t be able to tell us about many secret victories in the so-called War on Terrorism. If only they’d had the courage to keep their promise! This past week, the White House publicly announced that many Al Qaeda operatives were on the American radar screen, even suggesting which operatives they meant. Our enemies couldn’t have received better intelligence about American operations if they’d had Condi Rice on their payroll.
 
Americans’ cynicism about terror alerts has gotten to the point where it rivals how the rest of the world sees America. And with good reason: as pre-Democratic Convention communications with the Pakistani government proved, the Bush Administration plans terror news in advance, subverting our trust in the integrity of these alerts. That is, our terror alerts owe more to domestic political realities than to emerging terrorist threats.
 
And yet, despite coming on the heels of the Democratic Convention, the terror warning from Homeland Security in late July got the attention of even the cynical. It was specific, it was believable, and as it turns out, it was the administration yet again using fear-mongering for political gain.
 
Bad enough that Secretary Ridge referred to “the President’s leadership” in what was supposed to be an announcement about us, the supposedly threatened, not about George W. Bush, the candidate. But the next day,  Ridge’s briefly restored credibility began to crumble again: the increased casing of Wall Street, the Citigroup building, the IMF in DC, and the Prudential building in Newark had all occurred during — get this — the Clinton Administration.
 
But all is not as it seems: It turns out that there was in fact a new source for this old information, even if the terror alert itself was bogus and politically timed. Given the administration’s 2001 vow of secrecy, did they say, “We can’t tell you why this is new information, but trust us that it is”?
 
Nope. What they did was this: For no other reason than to save face, they exposed — and thus destroyed — what had been an ongoing and successful covert operation against Al Qaeda.
 
When the president’s middle initial seems to stand for WhoCriedWolf, there is no trust on which to build, no reservoir of goodwill with which to reassure the public. So the administration followed their usual M.O. and put national security last and a boneheaded sense of short-term political gain first by telling reporters secret information it was insane to reveal.
 
What was this information, you ask, and why was it insane to reveal it?
 
They revealed the name of probably their only mole within Al Qaeda, a double agent working with Pakistani authorities who was providing us, via Pakistan, with real-time communications to terrorists in Britain, America, and around the world.
 
Revealing this name ended that most valuable source forever, alerting our enemies not only to stop communicating with him, but to go underground immediately to avoid arrest and interruption of ongoing terror plans against America and Britain.
 
As I’ve written about the Bush Administration’s revealing a CIA undercover agent’s identity: whoever released the name of our mole should have been killed with a poison dart to the neck before the words got out of his mouth. Where’s James Bond when you really need him? That it’s grounds for presidential impeachment is so obvious it hardly needs to be said, even if (prepare for sarcasm) it’s not as serious as questioning the meaning of the word “is.”
 
The coverage of this issue from Democracy Now has been exemplary. Their Tuesday program featured Juan Cole, an award-winning blogger and a University of Michigan professor who is fluent in Arabic and Farsi. Prof. Cole does not shrink from parsing the grey areas that make complex issues so, well, complex.
 
NPR’s coverage, on the other hand, has been negligently complicit with the administration. To wit: Britain and Pakistan, both outraged and screaming at Washington over this latest catastrophe, were referred to as being “somewhat annoyed” over it. Unnamed “former intelligence officials” were referred to as assuring us that bungling our most successful infiltration of Al Qaeda doesn’t actually matter.
 
You’d think if that were true, someone would go on the record, wouldn’t ya?
 
Oh, that liberal press, always liberally allowing the president to give aid and comfort to our enemies in search of a tiny bump in opinion polls!
 
As Professor Cole’s blog  explains, this story gets murkier the more one probes it. Condi Rice now denies saying that the name was given “on background” to journalists, which wouldn’t have been an excuse in any case, because “background” doesn’t mean “don’t print it”; it means “don’t attribute what you print to who told it to you.”
 
What we do know is that the someone in the administration, apparently with the National Security Adviser’s approval, has loose lips. And as the name “Cole” ought to remind us, one of the dangers of bungling our fight with Al Qaeda is that it can sink ships, turn aircraft into missiles, and otherwise lose America the war its presidential administration is only pretending to fight as it seeks first and foremost to retain power.  


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