Once Helpful, National Security Leaks Becoming a Hazard for Obama Re-Election

“This has to stop. When people say they don't want to work with the United States because they can't trust us to keep a secret, that's serious.”

-- Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., at a press conference lamenting a cascade of national security leaks.

The brightest spot for President Obama with voters is on foreign policy. But the effort to maximize his advantage by aggressively highlighting his record may now be working against the president.


In the latest FOX News poll, Obama is tied with Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a head-to-head matchup and trailing Romney on the top issues of the election, the economy, job creation and government spending.

But Obama stood tall on national security issues. Obama bested Romney by 11 points on handling of foreign policy and 13 points on dealing with terrorism.

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    Part of this is a result of voter support for two major developments in Obama’s term – the final withdrawal from Iraq and the killing of Usama bin Laden. It also stems from the fact that Romney has no foreign-policy resume to speak of while Obama has had more than three-years of on-the-job training.

    But part of the advantage comes from the fact that Team Obama has been very aggressive about depicting the president as a steely-eyed killer of terrorists.

    Consider the April anniversary of the bin Laden raid, not only did Obama do the expected in taking a victory lap – he went further, popping into Afghanistan for a speech commemorating the event, inviting NBC News to the previously verboten Situation Room and, most remarkably, using the occasion to attack Romney, whom Obama’s campaign said lacked the courage Obama showed in ordering Navy SEALs to kill bin Laden.

    Republicans may gripe that it’s tacky and un-presidential, but the polls suggest that Obama’s end-zone dance on bin Laden was brash enough to cut through the media clutter. For a president who started his term clashing with a bipartisan coalition in Congress over civilian trials for foreign terrorists, his current advantage over Romney on such subjects is evidence that his audacious media strategy worked.

    But, the Obama organization always has a problem with excess. And on national security, they have really gone over the top.

    Dating back to the killing of bin Laden, the administration’s intelligence apparatus has been leaking like a sieve and always on stories that cast Obama as a kind of warrior king.

    Rather than a wry wink when the news came that bin Laden was dead, Obama went for a massive data download, briefing and leaking and even giving high-level access to movie makers.

    Critics say that all of that splurping not only exposed long-secret military practices but also may have exposed the very Pakistanis who helped American forces find and kill the man behind 9/11.

    As the general election season as accelerated (and not in a positive direction for the president) so too have the leaks about his involvement in killing baddies accelerated.

    In consecutive weeks, the New York Times produced stories about Obama’s tough tactics on terror sourced from high-level officials in the administration.

    One week it was all about Obama’s “kill list” and how the president personally decide which individuals, including U.S. citizens abroad, should be killed by his aggressive drone program.

    The next week, it was all about how Obama had personally intervened to push for a cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear weapons program even when others warned of risks. The story that emerged from all three leaks – bin Laden, “kill list,” and the nuclear virus – was that of Obama the intrepid.

    That was all too much for the intelligence community, one of the few bastions of bipartisanship in Washington. There is an expectation that presidents will try to capitalize on the success of covert operations, but seeing so much, for so long finally prompted a snapback.

    When Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, calls you out in public, that’s some serious snapback.

    Glory hogging is part of the game, but only up to a point. If the spooks and their friends in Congress think that someone is putting agents or operations in danger they have ways of responding.

    If someone can leak stories about the president reflecting on Thomas Aquinas’ theory of just warfare before coolly ordering the death of a terrorist in Yemen, someone else can leak a story about executive actions that didn’t go so well. Resentful spies might start coughing up information to counteract the president’s preferred narrative.

    The immediate concern for the president is having members of his own party make a veiled accusation of politically motivated leaking against his national security team. That looks bad and may spur an investigation that dredges up even more.

    By using such aggressive tactics to burnish the president’s image with the bin Laden killing, Team Obama has undercut the president’s ability to defend himself against the charge of reckless leaking. For the Obama organization, this is a persistent problem: allowing a desire for short-term gain to trump long-term strategy.

    The Day in Quotes

    "I'm very sorry about what happened. I thought something had to be done on the 'fiscal cliff' before the election. Apparently nothing has to be done until the first of the year."

    -- Former President Bill Clinton talking to CNN about his call earlier this week for another short-term extension of current income tax rates, a position in conflict with President Obama’s call for higher taxes on top earners.

    “I'm not sure he's going to win"

    -- Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, discussing President Obama’s re-election on CNN.

    “I think that I can be an asset in solidifying the conservative base of the party. But I also think that myself, my father and the movement that he started attracts a lot of independents, also. So a lot of these young people are not necessarily the conservative base.”

    -- Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on “Hannity” endorsing Mitt Romney for president.

    “President Obama's problem now isn't what Wisconsin did, it's how he looks each day—careening around, always in flight, a superfluous figure. No one even looks to him for leadership now. He doesn't go to Wisconsin, where the fight is. He goes to Sarah Jessica Parker's place, where the money is.”

    -- Peggy Noonan, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, “What's Changed After Wisconsin.”

    “From the beginning we've built this campaign together, from the bottom up. More people giving a little bit is the only way to compete with a few people giving a lot. So let's fight like hell and win this thing.”

    -- Email from President Obama’s campaign sounding the alarm for supporters after Obama’s re-election effort got swamped in May fundraising totals by the Romney organization, $76 million to $60 million.

    And Now, A Word From Charles

    “There is a term when a raving lunatic, excuse me, psychotic comes in the door. You say he is speaking world salad.  This is world salad with vinaigrette on it.”

    -- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier,” discussing former President Bill Clinton recanting his call for the extension of current income tax rates.  

    Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.