Few things illustrate how political elites exploit the rule of law as an instrument of power more vividly than the ongoing controversy over leaks. The same Obama administration that has waged an unprecedented prosecutorial war on whistleblowers (and, increasingly, investigative journalists) has itself continuously perpetrated serious leaks of classified information for the most base and self-interested goals. Low-levels leakers who disclose evidence of high-level wrongdoing are mercilessly punished by the Obama DOJ, while the high-level criminals they expose -- and high-level leakers seeking to glorify the President -- are aggressively shielded from all consequences. Meanwhile, leaks of classified information continue to be the prime currency for the same Washington media class that loves to heap scorn on people like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. In sum, leaks of classified information are a heinous crime when done to embarrass or undermine those in power, but are noble and necessary when done to bolster them.
Nobody embodies this species of blatant corruption more purely than the senior Democratic Senator from California and Intelligence Committee Chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, who also serves as the National Security State's most faithful servant (a National Security State which, just by the way, has greatly enriched her extremely rich military contractor husband, Richard Blum; Feinstein herself reported a net worth of $80 million back in 2006). The Senate Committee which Feinstein chairs was created in the wake of the intelligence abuses discovered by the Church Committee in the mid-1970s, and was intended to "provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States." As Chair of the Committee, Feinstein evinces no interest whatsoever in doing any of that. She does the opposite: she unyieldingly devotes herself to fortifying the wall of secrecy behind which the intelligence community operates, protecting whatever they do from accountability, and punishing anyone who impedes it.
Along those lines, one of Feinstein's prime causes over the last several years has been to increase even further the extreme secrecy regime behind which the federal government operates, and to demand harsh punishment for whistleblowers. At the end of 2010, she demanded that the DOJ prosecute Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for violations of the Espionage Act of 1917, and earlier this month issued the same demand to an Australian newspaper, using a rationale that would apply every bit as much to The New York Times (inded a rationale that is now being applied by many in Washington to call for prosecutions of newspapers). Even though the Obama administration has prosecuted twice as many leakers for espionage as all previous administrations combined, Feinstein continues to go on Fox News and call for still more leak prosecutions.
This month, she joined with the most right-wing members of the House to demand investigations into recent leaks to the media (though because it's White House officials who are the leakers -- rather than Army Private-nobodies or obscure mid-level NSA employees -- she notably refused to endorse any criminal prosecutions: only harmless Congressional ones). Yesterday, she pointed out the obvious -- that at least some of these most controversial recent leaks come "from the ranks" of the Obama White House -- and "said her committee would meet Tuesday to craft legislation that would address the leaks of classified information, including additional authorities and rules to stop the leaks": in other words, enact new laws to strengthen the government's secrecy power still further and permit still easier punishment for leakers.
I've written extensively about why this radical secrecy and war on whistleblowers is so pernicious. It destroys the one remaining avenue for learning of secret government wrongdoing. It enables government control over the flow of information. It easily can and almost certainly will encompass investigative journalists (Jane Mayer recently said: "when our sources are prosecuted, the news-gathering process is criminalized, so it’s incumbent upon all journalists to speak up").
But what makes the case of Dianne Feinstein extra egregious is that, as is well-known in Washington, the California Senator is one of the most prolific leakers in town. Here's what Blake Hounshell, the Managing Editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, wrote yesterday in response to Feinstein's latest condemnation of leaks:
One hears this frequently from people like Hounshell who report on national security and intelligence matters in Washington. That the powerful Senator who has devoted herself to criminally punishing low-level leakers and increasing the wall of secrecy is herself "one of the biggest leakers in Congress" is about as perfect an expression as it gets of how the rule of law and secrecy powers are sleazily exploited in Washington (moreover, as EFF's Trevor Timm observed yesterday: "Strange, I don't remember Sen. Feinstein decrying leaks coming from the White House when they led to the Iraq War"). By her own reasoning, Dianne Feinstein should be criminally prosecuted for espionage and threatened with decades in prison (indeed, as an American citizen and government employee, she certainly has greater legal duties not to leak than does, say, private Australian citizen Julian Assange, whose espionage prosecution she is demanding).
But as Democrats are very fond of pointing out these days -- as they did, very fairly, when Mitt and Ann Romney recently took angry offense at the notion that they should disclose more than two years of their tax returns ("Dear me, it appears that Lady Romney has lost her patience with the riff raff and their unseemly questioning about money") -- our nation's oligarchs believe at their core that they are entitled, by all notions of what they believe to be basic fairness, to be exempt from the rules they impose on everyone else. That is Dianne Feinstein at her core. It's how she can be both Prime Enemy of leaks and "one of the biggest leakers in Congress" without having her brain even recognize, let alone recoil from and revolt against, this most grotesque of aristocratic privileges.
UPDATE: Speaking of revealing symbols for how Washington works, consider: (1) the Chair of the Senate Committee responsible for oversight of the intelligence committee happens to be the single most devoted servant of that community, and (2) the single greatest enabler in the U.S. Senate of the National Security State (and one of its most lucrative beneficiaries) is a life-long Democrat from the very blue state of California and a former Mayor of San Francisco.