Key to leaks: Why now? Who benefits?

President Reagan once said he had "thought of the guillotine" for officials who leaked classified information. That might risk decimating Washington. Leaks are currently having a field day. And, if you want to speculate on where they come from, you start with two questions: Why now? And who benefits?

For example, Scott Ritter, former United Nations arms inspector in Iraq, comes out with an article in the prestigious Arms Control Today, organ of the Arms Control Association, saying that Iraq has no significant prohibited weapons left and inspection can be eased. Promptly comes leaked word based on classified information that Iraq has restarted its missile program, has flight-tested a short-range ballistic missile, and may be working on longer-range missiles.

Get the idea?

Or, President Clinton is hoping to win quick passage of a bill normalizing trade relations with China. There is significant opposition. Word leaks of classified briefings for congressional committees on China's continued aid to Pakistan's long-range nuclear-missile program. The administration now finds itself trying to head off new congressional sanctions against China.


Or, outside the national-security arena, FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno are at sword's points over her refusal so far to name a special counsel to investigate Vice President Al Gore's fundraising activities. Suddenly Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania lets loose with the revelation that the chief of Ms. Reno's campaign-finance task force has also recommended a special counsel. On ABC, Mr. Specter is asked whether Mr. Freeh was his source.

"Well, he didn't tell me," says Specter. But no denial that Freeh was the source of this bit of intramural sabotage.

A curious leak was contained in the lead story in last Sunday's Washington Post. A counterterrorism study commissioned by the National Park Service concluded that Washington's monuments are vulnerable to terrorist attack on the order of the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings. The Post said that every one of the 200 pages of the report was stamped "law enforcement sensitive."

So why would anyone want to advertise vulnerability to disturbed and suggestible people? Well, the report goes on to say that to protect the monuments, the Park Police need $3 million that a stingy Congress so far has not provided. Money is also needed, it says, to bring Park Police pay up to levels of other law- enforcement agencies. Care to guess who gave that story to the Post for its independence- weekend front page?

I'm aware that some with long memories may ask who leaked to me in 1976 the final report of the House Intelligence Committee on the misdeeds of the CIA and FBI which the full House voted to suppress. And with what purpose? Fair questions, but I still can't answer them.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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