The Rumsfeld memo,
    the Valerie Plame affair,
    and the practice of leaking

I have to agree with Glenn Reynolds that whoever leaked the Rumsfeld memo didn’t do the country any favor. Those questions ought to be asked, and they won’t be asked if the memos asking them show up in the newspaper.

But Glenn tries, unjustifiably in my view, to make the latest flap another part of his campaign to obfuscate what went on in the Valerie Plame affair, by treating the two cases as being parallel instances of “leaking.” There is simply no comparison between (on the one hand) directly damaging the national security by revealing intelligence sources and methods and (on the other) somewhat inhibiting the policy development process by embarrassing the Secretary of Defense.

Moreover, as Glenn points out, now that the memo is out, everyone should read it: printing it added to the relevant knowledge available to citizens. There was no parallel gain in the Valerie Plame case: Wilson’s marital connections had no relevance to what he found, or didn’t find, in Niger.

It’s possible that the leaker of the Rumsfeld memo had a bad motive (such as wanting to make trouble for Rumsfeld) rather than, or in addition to, a good motive (wanting to inform the public about the war on terror). If so, and if the leaker were caught and fired, I wouldn’t have any tears to shed for him. But the reporter in USA Today simply did a reporter’s job, and Glenn’s suggestion that he be subpoenaed and forced to break a pledge of confidence strikes me as utterly wrong.

Update Reynolds expresses dark suspicions that the CIA somehow leaked the memo for its own nefarious ends; Glenn has long been convinced that the CIA is a nest of doubleplusungood oldthinkers that needs to be cleaned out. But Tacitus, in an update to a post which Reynolds links to, finds that the leak was almost certainly an intenal SNAFU, familiar to anyone who has dealt with Fort Fumble: Rumsfeld wrote what was supposed to be a close-hold memo and failed to mark it “close hold,” and one of the recipients sent it to a bunch of subordinates, one of whom decided to give it to USA Today. At least, that’s what Rumsfeld is saying.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com