WASHINGTON — This week's revelation about the president's authorizing covert action in Syria should not have come as a surprise to anyone. On Wednesday, Aug. 1, CNN carried a breathless report sourced to "U.S. officials" that our beloved Nobel Peace Prize recipient in the Oval Office "has signed a covert directive authorizing U.S. support for Syrian rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad." According to the story, which was picked up by dozens of other outlets within hours, "The secret order, referred to as an intelligence 'finding,' allows for clandestine support by the CIA and other agencies."
Given the torrent of self-adulatory leaks since the O-Team arrived in Washington three and a half years ago, this should have been the non-story of the month. But the mainstream media fell for it faster than Missy Franklin could swim 100 meters. That's just what the O-Team wanted — and has come to expect.
It turns out the story is true. Obama did sign a "finding" — a document required by the 1974 Hughes-Ryan Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act. The Nixon-era law compels a president to notify Congress that he has formally authorized a "covert" U.S. intelligence activity that goes beyond the collection of information, and that the activity is important to U.S. national security.
As a result of Hughes-Ryan, Congress set up "permanent select committees" in the House and Senate and committed to protect sensitive sources, methods, identities and operational details that would put Americans and/or our allies at risk. Both committees were provided special access facilities where classified material could be discussed, debated and stored. Members of the committee staffs are subject to background investigations and granted security clearances.
In the 38 years since Hughes-Ryan and the "presidential finding" process was instituted, not a single year has passed without the unauthorized disclosure of very sensitive national security information. Just months after the procedures were put in place, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times carried articles describing a CIA covert operation to recover and exploit a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine in the Pacific. Later that year, the names of dozens of CIA personnel working undercover overseas were published. Shortly thereafter, Richard Welch — the CIA station chief in Athens, Greece — was murdered.
Stanislav Lunev, a Soviet military intelligence officer who defected to the United States in 1992, wrote in his memoir, "Through the Eyes of the Enemy," "I was amazed — and Moscow was very appreciative — at how many times I found very sensitive information in American newspapers." The Soviet Union is gone. But the leak problem isn't.
Radical Islamic terrorists now benefit in the same way as our Cold War adversaries. In 1998, major U.S. media outlets revealed that the National Security Agency was able to monitor Osama bin Laden's conversations on his satellite telephone. Within days, bin Laden stopped using the phone, and less than three years later, nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks. The carnage at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in a farm field in Somerset County, Pa., hasn't deterred leakers, either.
On June 8 of this year, Attorney General Eric Holder pledged that the Obama administration would investigate and bring leakers to justice. And now, we have yet another leak, this one about a presidential finding to provide "covert support" to the Syrian opposition. So much for swift justice.
What's amazing about this revelation is that there is nothing covert about what little the United States is doing to support opponents of al-Assad's brutal regime in Damascus. In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced it all publicly on April 1, in Istanbul, Turkey — April Fools' Day here at home. "I detailed measures that the United States is taking," she said, and went on to describe everything that has been written and said about the presidential finding: financial aid, communications support, training, medical aid and humanitarian aid for refugees.
This begs the question: If this presidential finding was issued months ago, why leak it now? Four reasons are evident:
First, the White House wants to deflect blame for not doing enough to prevent al-Assad — and anyone else in the neighborhood — from using Syria's stores of chemical or biological weapons.
Second, they knew in advance that Kofi Annan, the United Nation's "peace planner," was about to step down — and blame everyone for his failure.
Third, the O-Team doesn't want us dwelling on our appalling lack of human intelligence about what's really happening on the ground in Syria and who is likely to take over when this civil war is over.
But most telling of all is the inescapable conclusion that leaks have become the new normal for the White House and our media. A leak of "classified information" gets play — but a press release about helping the rebels won't. A press conference requires straightforward answers to questions. Leaks don't.
The O-Team is full of master leakers. If you want to solve the mystery of "whodunit," don't count on Eric Holder. Call Sherlock Holmes.
Oliver North is the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel, the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance, and the author of "American Heroes in Special Operations." To find out more about Oliver North and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.