Ellsberg recounts how if he had the courage to leak the Pentagon Papers sooner he might have been able to prevent the escalation of the Vietnam war and then compares that to Richard Clarke revealing after the fact in Against all Enemies that the Bush administration has been secretly plotting to invade Iraq well before it began it marketing campaign with the American pubic.
Instead of writing a memoir to be cleared for publication in 2004, a year after Iraq had been invaded, Clarke could have made his knowledge of the war to come, and its danger to our security, public before the war. He could have supported his testimony with hundreds of files of documents from his office safe and computer, to which he then still had access. He could have given these to both the media and the then Democratic-controlled Senate.Clarke points out that it is too late for Vietnam and Iraq, but that if brave officials are willing to come forward with information now, that the nation might avert repeating the same mistake for a third time. But it takes a brave soul to be willing to put his career and possibly his freedom on the line in when (s)he realizes that being party to secrecy is conflicting with an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution.
“If I had criticized the president to the press as a special assistant” in the summer of 2002, Clarke told Larry King in March 2004, “I would have been fired within an hour.” That is undoubtedly true. But should that be the last word on that course? To be sure, virtually all bureaucrats would agree with him, as he told King, that his only responsible options at that point were either to resign quietly or to “spin” for the White House to the press, as he did. But that is just the working norm I mean to question here.
His unperceived alternative, I wish to suggest, was precisely to court being fired for telling the truth to the public, with documentary evidence, in the summer of 2002. For doing that, Clarke would not only have lost his job, his clearance, and his career as an executive official; he would almost surely have been prosecuted, and he might have gone to prison. But the controversy that ensued would not have been about hindsight and blame. It would have been about whether war on Iraq would make the United States safer, and whether it was otherwise justified.
Which is precisely why we should acknowledge and honor the patriots within the intelligence community who were willing to go to prison in order to ensure that the NIE finding that Iran ceased progress on its nuclear program in 2003 was released.
Their honorable actions stand out in even greater contrast when compared with the members of Congress who have and continue to enable and facilitate the Bush administration's continuous assult on this nation's most fundamental principles.