Leakier and Leakier

If you wander down through time in the ol' wayback machine (i.e. the library) you keep finding powerful, powerful people who deal in secret information in ways that, were they not so powerful, might today get them fired or thrown in prison.

Example 1. Gust Avrakotos, CIA genius and leader of a team that helped defeat the Soviet Union in the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. (You may have seen the film, Charlie Wilson's War, based on the book by George Crile)

In the book, a throwaway sentence or two is mentioned in which Gust purposely over-classifies information because he knows it will be leaked to people who he wants to see it.

It seems like a small thing. It's a book about the Cold War. Who cares about such a small sentence?

Perhaps, any of the number of people who have been prosecuted or persecuted or threatened in recent years for 'leaking'? Like maybe Thomas Drake or Stephen Kim?

That is not all - Mr Avrakotos also apparently shares a huge amount of secret information with Charlie Wilson, aka "good time Charlie", a man who enjoys the spirits, and who was not, technically, cleared to see a good amount of the information he was given.

Again, one wonders how the friends of Thomas Drake, like William Binney or Diane Roark, feel, hearing about such a story. Just for theoretically being associated with someone who theoretically possessed information that was retro-actively classified. Some of these friends were raided by the FBI with guns drawn in 2007, in their homes. In the case of Drake, his private possessions were taken and were not returned. Drake faced life (de facto) in prison and spent all of his money on lawyers before he was finally released from the grip of the prosecutors with a slap on the wrist misdemeanor charge.

Gust is dead, Charlie is dead - perhaps nobody will know how they feel about the modern 'leak prosecutions'. One thing that Wilson does say in an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS is that his committee never had a 'damaging leak', and dubbed it an astounding fact. Ahh, but wasn't the biggest leak of all, all the information he was getting from the CIA - an uncleared congressman who was not on the intelligence committee? Wasn't the Soviet defeat, essentially, built on leaks?

Case 2 - Perhaps it has been mentioned before, but Wild Bill Donovan, the founder of the COI, which became the OSS, which became the CIA, was almost literally an absent minded professor. Mark Riebling's book "Wedge", about the history of the relations between the FBI and CIA paints a rather humorous picture of "Wild" Bill telling secret information at cocktail parties, losing documents at hotels, and getting mad when anyone criticized him about it. This nature is what made Herbert Hoover, the straight laced bureaucrat (and I do emphasize 'lace' here), avoid sharing information with the OSS. But I digress.

By Riebling's take, Donovan was the sort of 'free thinker' type who shunned bureaucracy and order, and preferred action, sometimes crazy action. It accounts for the nature of the OSS during the war - a large amount of agents wasting money doing little effectual work, and another large number of agents risking (and losing) their lives and delivering amazing results.

But the strangest thing about Donovan is to hear the idea that his spirit was revived in the 1980s when president Reagan put a man named William Casey in charge of the CIA. Casey had actually worked in the OSS in WWII under Donovan, and liked him accoridng to the book "Burn Before Reading" by Stansfield Turner. William Casey was also an absent minded professor type, also lost documents, and also was willing to suborn bizarre plots, like, say, the plot of Gust Avrakotos and Charlie Wilson to actually try to win the Soviet Afghan war by making secret deals with China, Egypt, and even Israel.

Turner was, btw, Carter's head of CIA in the 70s and many agents hated him - the Charlie Wilson's War scene where Gust breaks the window and curses his boss and screams about the 'ethnics' getting fired - well, Turner did that firing. But I digress.

Example 3: J Edgar.

Hoover himself, according to Riebling's book, leaked the original plan for the CIA as drawn up by Donovan. He leaked it directly to a reporter. By Obama's standards, J Edgar Hoover would have been guilty of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. After all, he 'leaked' 'national defense' information to those 'not entitled' to receive it, namely, the press.

The point is that Casey and Donovan and Hoover a huge number of other people at the top of the CIA, FBI, and the government in general, have mis handled, mis placed, mis layed, mis used, leaked, and otherwise abused highly secretive, sensitive information, and by some accounts, these guys just so happened to be some of the most effective guys at their jobs.

But beyond that, there is the head-scratching inconsistency, of 'cracking down' on leaks, and the mishandling of sensitive information, when the manipulated leaking of such information has been part of the US government's policy at the highest levels for a long, long time. It is hard to argue in a free and well run society that the most powerful should imprison and persecute and harass people for allegedly breaking the same laws that they themselves violate as part of the regular course of doing business.