Should National Security Leaks Be a Campaign Issue?

Sen. John McCain accuses President Barack Obama of leaking classified information for political gain.

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Arizona Sen. John McCain accused President Barack Obama of purposefully leaking classified information to boost his image during an election year. Several recent national security leaks of information about drone strikes and the Stuxtnet computer virus which targeted Iran, among others, prompted Attorney General Eric Holder to open an official investigation into the source of the leaks.

McCain, Obama’s opponent in the 2008 presidential election, said Obama is using classified security information to his advantage.

“It is difficult to escape the conclusion that these recent leaks of highly classified information, all of which have the effect of making the president look strong and decisive on national security in the middle of his re-election campaign, have a deeper political motivation,” said McCain.

[See a collection of political cartoons on WikiLeaks.]

Obama responded to the claim on Friday, calling it “offensive” that anyone would come to that conclusion.

“Since I’ve been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference. “Now we have mechanisms in place where, if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences … And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past.”

Among recent leaks is also evidence of a “kill list,” a list of terrorism suspects the president has a direct hand in deciding to pursue.  

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

The Obama administration has conducted twice as many leak-related investigations (six) than under all previous presidents combined (three).

Members of both parties have expressed concern about the leaks, but have neglected to accuse specific perpetrators. Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign has also refrained from specifically accusing the president of leaking the information on purpose.

"Gov. Romney thinks it's vital that covert operations remain covert," said Amanda Henneberg, Romney spokeswoman. "He believes leaks risk our national security and must stop. Leadership starts at the top. It's his sincere hope that the president is using all means at his disposal to put an end to this harmful practice."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

While Romney has not jumped to use the leaks against the president, McCain has not backtracked from his assertions, continuing to attack Obama Sunday on CNN. The official investigations are still pending, and it remains to be seen if McCain’s accusations or the results of the investigations will have any lasting effect on the presidential campaign.

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