July 1, 2012  

Leak debate

TO THE CONGRESSIONAL INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEES for ginning up new legislation to restrict the flow of information among intelligence agencies.

In the wake of the New York Times’ June 14 article describing how President Obama reviews and approves lists of people to kill with unmanned aerial vehicles, lawmakers are mulling harsher penalties for leaks. Built on unnamed administration sources, the article has incensed legislators who allege that the White House is leaking such sensitive information to build up the president’s national security credentials for political gain in the run-up to the election. They may be right.

But it’s also true that, facing international criticism over the use of targeted killings, establishing how the U.S. government makes such decisions — and making clear that only the highest authority gets to make such calls — arguably serves the national interest even more than any political one. There’s no reason to expect that, if elected, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney would cede such authority to underlings.

A healthy discussion on emerging tools and methods of warfare is ultimately in the national interest. Congress needs to foster that public debate, not shut it off.