OTR Interviews

Rumsfeld on alleged White House leaks: There can be criminal prosecution for security breaches

Former defense secretary breaks down the White intel leak scandal and why a special prosecutor is needed and Pakistan's request for a U.S. apology


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 14, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Tonight, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. What does he think about the dangerous leaks of top secret information? Who does he think is the source? Is it the White House?

Here is Secretary Rumsfeld.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Secretary, nice to see you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: First the question of the leaks. I'm curious, your evaluation of these leaks, how serious they are.

RUMSFELD: I think quite serious. And the problem is you'll never know how serious for some time because we -- our country goes out to other countries and asks them to cooperate with our intelligence services. And when they see a behavior pattern, where we are not responsible and don't behave properly with respect to important information that they give us, they're going to not want to cooperate with us.

And if you have countries backing away, unwilling to cooperate, America loses and the American people lose. The same thing with individuals. We go to individuals and ask them to cooperate with us. And if they're compromised and their families are put at risk and they're put at risk, it tells everyone else we ask to help us, Be careful of America. And so it's a serious problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: In some ways, that's sort of the big picture view of this. In this -- one of -- one of the leaks is about this cyber-attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. And it seems to me that that is even more dangerous because we've heard so much about Israel can't go alone against Iran to knock out their nuclear weapons program. And we've been going back and forth, to some extent, to what we're involved and what we're going to do.

This was sort of, it seemed like, a really quick potential way to disable it. And so this one seems to have a real direct impact on Israel, who had developed this cyber-worm with us.

RUMSFELD: You know, I'm not into the details. But there's no question but that countries are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, including the United States. And how they're done and who does them is not something that ought to -- in my view, ought to be discussed in the public.

VAN SUSTEREN: How -- well, let me ask you this question. How safe are we from a reverse situation? Do you have any sort of sense of that, how safe we are from a cyber-attack from another country?

RUMSFELD: I think it is probably correct to say that the countries that are the most advanced technologically, the United States, and the countries that are the freest and pride themselves on being free nations and people being free are the most vulnerable.

And if you think of the extent to which we've thrown away the shoeboxes with the three-by-five cards or the old IBM cards with the punches in them and are dependent on digits -- everything's dependent on digits today, and there's our vulnerability. And it's real and serious.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the vulnerability of -- I mean, I don't mean to understate this, but it can disrupt our financial system...

RUMSFELD: Electric grid.

VAN SUSTEREN: Electric grid. I mean, give me some idea how bad it could be. I mean, it's, like -- I mean, I don't -- I don't want to get sort of -- be an alarmist, but I'm trying to think, like, is it something that we could -- that's just going to be disruptive for two months and we're all going to be, you know, very distressed and disturbed, or is it much more cataclysmic than that?

RUMSFELD: Well, it's much more serious. I mean, just take Katrina. Once electricity goes out, you can't lift (ph) gas. You can't get gas out of a gas station. It doesn't pump. People can't move around. You can't rescue people.

The potential is to disable an activity like a power grid. The potential is to confuse and mislead. And the potential is to deny capability. So it runs the full gamut of -- cyber-attacks can run the full gamut, and in every respect, technologically advanced countries, countries that are more heavily dependent on digits than most, people that are more - - banks and people that are more heavily dependent on digits are the most vulnerable.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do we know -- and I guess an investigation will give us a little information, but that'll be some time down the road -- whether this particular leak, about these three -- the three topics that are leaked that everyone has seized upon, which is the double agent and -- and one -- and the cyber-attack, and of course, the kill list -- how do we know, or how do we assess whether this was a clumsy, incompetent leak, or whether this was sort of a deliberate, with some sort of sinister motive, for instance, a political motive?

RUMSFELD: Everything I can tell watching it, as an observer of these things, is that it did not come from the Department of Defense and did not come from the CIA. And indeed, if I were at the Department of Defense -- and I suspect the military over there, whose people are put at risk when there's additional information learned about how we conduct our operations -- have to be grinding their teeth.

It looks to be out of the White House. Now, at what level in the White House, I'm not in a position to know.

VAN SUSTEREN: But is it out of the White House that someone said someone to somebody else who said something to somebody else, and shouldn't have said any of this stuff at all, or is it something where someone -- do we get a sense that it was done for a selfish political reason? Because that's very different. Both are bad. But one to me is much more sinister and troubling than the other, regardless of the -- they have the same impact.

RUMSFELD: Well, I just don't know. And if -- you know, if a disinterested observer looked at it, they'd have to say that it had the cumulative effect of advantaging the president politically.

VAN SUSTEREN: When people have these discussions, when you had them (INAUDIBLE) how many people are usually in the room? Any -- I mean, I assume it varies, but I mean, how -- how many would you assume at any given time on these very high-level classified meetings?

RUMSFELD: Well, you saw the picture of the -- taken in the Situation Room when they discussed the attack on bin Laden. That's about right. There are some military people. There are some political people. There are some CIA people. There's some civilians from the Department of Defense and some White House staff.

So you're looking -- in a Situation Room, you'd probably have around the table 6 or 7, and on the straphangers in the back, you'd probably have another 8. You're talking anywhere from 14 to 20.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so some of the discussion, though, inside the Situation Room isn't classified. Some of it, I assume, is non- classified.


VAN SUSTEREN: Some of it -- I mean, how usually is it delineated so that people know for sure, Don't say this one? I mean, I assume it's not simply left up to good judgment. I assume that -- you know, that there's some sort of ability to determine that, This is classified, don't talk about it, you can talk about this?

RUMSFELD: Once the president calls a meeting in the Situation Room and you've got the National Security Council and then the deputies or the people behind, the people there don't need anyone to tell them what's sensitive or what's not sensitive.

If the president decides that something is particularly sensitive, or the director of CIA or the secretary of defense or the secretary of state, they then would have a principal-only meeting, and you would have the president, the vice president and the members of the National Security Council, the secretary of defense, secretary of state, CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

If there's something that is even -- needs to be even restricted to a greater extent, and the secretary of state or defense or CIA director decide that they have a piece of information that would be terribly damaging and compromise our troops or compromise an ally that provided us the information, something of an operational nature, they might very well simply talk to the president and not even do it in a meeting with others present.

So people who are around these things over the years, you know, have levels where they operate.

VAN SUSTEREN: Experience, in some way.


VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, they -- they get it. All right, now, if something's classified, at some point it might become unnecessary to have it classified. Is it officially declassified by the president, or can it be sort of informally, saying, OK, we're not -- this is going to be -- this no longer classified?

RUMSFELD: Yes. It can be classified at one level, and that level can be reduced as time goes on, if there's a reason to do that and you want to include more people.

You also not only have classifications -- top secret, secret, confidential, official use only, and the like -- you also have compartments. You can have something that is -- people -- a lot of people cleared for top secret, but it's in a compartment and they're not cleared for that compartment.

And that is also something -- it can be taken out of a compartment, if for some reason it's OK. But even people cleared for top secret are not allowed into all the compartments because that's based on a need to know.

VAN SUSTEREN: Democrats, Republicans both are very disturbed about this on Capitol Hill. Senator Feinstein is a Democrat, is an example, Senator McCain another example. There's a controversy, though, as to how this should be investigated, who should investigate it. The attorney general's appointed two U.S. attorneys, one from Maryland who was appointed by President Bush, and one from D.C. appointed by President Obama.

Some -- some senators, including Senator McCain, want a special prosecutor. What do you think is the better way forward on this?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm not in a position to second guess it. I think the principle that ought to be applied is this. Regardless of whether they're people appointed by Attorney General Holder that work for him, political appointees, which both of those people would be, or a special prosecutor, I think the test is not that.

The test is, Are the people appointed the kinds of people that reasonable members of the House and Senate are going to nod and say they'll do a fair job? They're not going to trim. They have reputations and -- I worry about a lot of special prosecutors.

You know, they get unlimited budgets. They can go on forever. They don't report to anybody. And in our system, I think being able to hold someone accountable other than a special prosecutor is not a bad idea.

But if that's the case, if it's not a special prosecutor, it seems to me it has to be somebody that the Republicans and the Democrats in the House and Senate who are concerned about this, and with good reason, ought to be able to nod and say, Fair enough, those people will do a decent job.

VAN SUSTEREN: Jumping ahead -- I mean, you know, this may be a criminal action by leaking it, may not. I mean, there's a lot to be learned and discovered about this. But what should happen to someone who does leak like this? I mean, someone -- what should we do with someone like this?

RUMSFELD: They can be prosecuted criminally for breaching security classifications.

VAN SUSTEREN: If it's not against the law. I mean, suppose that, you know, for whatever reason, that, you know, this is one of those areas where -- gray areas where there isn't a law that might cover it precisely, so it's not a violation of law. What should happen?

RUMSFELD: You're the lawyer, Greta!


VAN SUSTEREN: No, but it may not be a legal issue. You know, it may -- you know, it may ultimately not be a legal issue.

RUMSFELD: I mean, we've sent people to jail for -- for violating security and for compromising classified information.

VAN SUSTEREN: It could be unclassified. You know...

RUMSFELD: The things that we're talking about by way of the leaks are -- I have to believe were not unclassified. They were classified.

VAN SUSTEREN: I would find it hard to believe, too, but you know -- and that's why I hope -- you know, we'll find out more with the investigation.

Now let me turn to Pakistan. We are now paying $100 million a month extra for the last seven months because the Pakistanis have closed the route going to Pakistan for our supplies and -- as -- because of -- because of -- the United States will not apologize for the soldiers who were killed in that strike last November.

What are your thoughts about this?

RUMSFELD: My thoughts are that Pakistan is a complicated relationship. It's an enormously important country to us. It is our access into Afghanistan. It's a land-locked country, Afghanistan.

It's a country that has a Muslim population, has nuclear weapons, has an intelligence service that had long relationships with terrorists and the Taliban.

It is a country that stepped up and was a terrific supporter of the war on terrorism. They captured people in the urban areas. They tried to help out in the federally-administered tribal area and got a lot of people killed and didn't do very well in the FATA.

Now, what do we do about it? Well, I think what we do is, we say, Look, it's an important relationship. Why don't we try to calm it down, conduct diplomacy, private diplomacy, and not run around yelling and screaming and pointing fingers.

Our congressmen can yell and scream. Their parliament can yell and scream. But I would think the government would sit down and say, OK, they've got their problems, we've got ours. We need that relationship. And they need that relationship. Why don't we find areas where we can agree?

VAN SUSTEREN: But they want an apology. And we -- the United States has said, We regret the deaths of those soldiers, but that's the hang-up, is they want an apology from the United States. And the United States says it was joint error. And so the United States won't apologize.

RUMSFELD: Yes, I -- without knowing the facts, I wouldn't know what the answer to that would be. I can say this. The -- the -- the fact pattern would determine what our behavior ought to be. And it is unclear to me.

VAN SUSTEREN: What I think is sort of unusual in all of this is that we are now bringing supplies in through Russia, through the northern part of Afghanistan. And we -- we're grateful that Russia is letting us bring our supplies in to help our troops.

And on the other hand, we're having a very difficult time with Russia over Syria. So on the one hand, they're helping us -- of course, we're paying for it -- and on the other hand, they're -- you know, they're doing something that we find egregious.

RUMSFELD: You know, the relationship with Russia's complicated, as well. That reset button didn't work, and we've got real problems with that country and the things they're doing, the assistance they're providing to Iran with respect to their nuclear program, their unwillingness to be terribly helpful with respect to North Korea, their assistance to their close friend, Syria.

In so many respects, they are -- I mean, they sold I don't know how many thousands of AK-47s to Chavez in Venezuela. So they make a pattern of working with countries that are unfriendly to the United States. And this is nothing new.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are we drifting back towards the era of the cold war?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't think so. I think that -- Russia is a totally different thing than the Soviet Union was during the cold war. I mean, Russia's got a -- a -- probably a GDP about the size of Portugal, except for their energy.

They've problems with their borders with people. They've got Muslim problems with their population. They've got alcohol problems. They've got a large prison population. They have difficulty with their conscripts and their military.

They've got an outflow of educated people who are going to better places. They have trouble attracting industry outside the energy business because of the rule of law issues and corruption. So it is a totally different thing from the Soviet Union.

VAN SUSTEREN: What's your position on Law of the Sea treaty?

RUMSFELD: I am -- I testified against the Law of the Sea treaty. I think that there are some good things in it that our military and our navy would like and would benefit us. There's a degree of certainty that the business community would achieve, which is a plus also.

But when you weigh it against the concept that's in there -- the concept goes to something called the -- the whole idea that -- that the high seas are the property of humanity, of mankind, meaning they're not owned by anybody, therefore they are un-owned.

And this proposes to create a constitution for the high seas with a legislature, an executive, a judicial body, and give away to undeveloped countries, developing countries, land-locked countries what looks to be in the neighborhood of certainly billions, probably tens of billions, possibly hundreds of billions of dollars over time from royalties that companies that go out and mine these nodules in the high seas would have to pay into the thing called the -- in an Orwellian way, the International Seabed Authority. And the authority would make a lot of these decisions.

So I've never seen a treaty that suggests that that's the way to redistribute wealth in the world. It doesn't use the World Bank. It doesn't use the Congress with AID programs. It gives it to this authority, billions of dollars, undoubtedly, and the authority makes the decision as to how they're going to give that money away to developing countries.

I don't -- I think that's a concept that has never been used before, and I'm uncomfortable with it. And when I weigh the advantages of the treaty against that disadvantage -- I mean, what's next, outer space?

We're going decide that that's the property of all humanity and create a global international outer space authority like the Seabed Authority? It is such a fundamental shift in anything that we believe in this country in terms of the distribution of wealth and the redistribution of wealth that I just come away uncomfortable with it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Secretary, nice to see you. Thank you very much.

RUMSFELD: Thank you, Greta.