Steve Sachs Duke


Sunday, December 12, 2004


Leak of the Day: From the Washington Post:

IAEA Leader's Phone Tapped
U.S. Pores Over Transcripts to Try to Oust Nuclear Chief

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page A01

The Bush administration has dozens of intercepts of Mohamed ElBaradei's phone calls with Iranian diplomats and is scrutinizing them in search of ammunition to oust him as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to three U.S. government officials.

But the diplomatic offensive will not be easy. The administration has failed to come up with a candidate willing to oppose ElBaradei, who has run the agency since 1997, and there is disagreement among some senior officials over how hard to push for his removal, and what the diplomatic costs of a public campaign against him could be.

Although eavesdropping, even on allies, is considered a well-worn tool of national security and diplomacy, the efforts against ElBaradei demonstrate the lengths some within the administration are willing to go to replace a top international diplomat who questioned U.S. intelligence on Iraq and is now taking a cautious approach on Iran.

The intercepted calls have not produced any evidence of nefarious conduct by ElBaradei, according to three officials who have read them. But some within the administration believe they show ElBaradei lacks impartiality because he tried to help Iran navigate a diplomatic crisis over its nuclear programs. Others argue the transcripts demonstrate nothing more than standard telephone diplomacy.

"Some people think he sounds way too soft on the Iranians, but that's about it," said one official with access to the intercepts.

I'm sure this sort of thing goes on all the time. In fact, if the U.S. didn't tap ElBaradei's phone, I think it would be almost criminal negligence on the part of our diplomatic services. But it can't look good for our international image when we wiretap the IAEA, or spy on the Security Council.

So how did this get on the front page of the Post? The article makes it pretty clear that those in favor of keeping ElBaradei leaked the information, not to stop an unethical practice (cf. the Pentagon Papers), but rather to embarrass the other side in an intragovernmental policy debate. And that seems inexcusable to me. You can't run a State Department with every piece of information you collect on the front page of the Post the next morning. The organization claims to have blown it off ("'We've always assumed that this kind of thing goes on,' IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said"), but foreign publics aren't likely to react the same way -- and the Post doesn't put many non-stories on A1.

If the transcripts are really that inconclusive, could the benefits from the leak possibly have outweighed the danger that we'd push for a replacement? Whoever leaked to the Post ought to be fired, and quickly. We've got enough to worry about in stopping Iran's nuclear programs without our own officials sabotaging our intelligence.




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