The Cable

State Department begins interviews in Eikenberry leak investigation

The investigation into who leaked Amb. Karl Eikenberry's secret cables opposing the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan is heating up.

It's been more than four months since the Washington Post published a sensational scoop, reporting that Eikenberry had warned Washington, in strong language, against committing more American forces to the war-torn country unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai cracked down on corruption and demonstrated a greater capacity to govern. And it's been more than two months since the New York Times published the text of the two memos.

Now, the State's Diplomatic Security service has begun interviews of several key officials, department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirms to The Cable.

There are two identifiers on the documents, one that shows a leaked copy as having been initially designated for "SRAP" -- Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke -- and one designated for "S" -- the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But that doesn't mean that either Holbrooke or Clinton was the leaker. On the contrary, these particular copies were bandied about among several senior officials and staffers during the president's Afghanistan strategy review late last year.

"They were the original recipients," Crowley said, referring to Holbrook and Clinton, "but during the course of the deliberations last fall that led to the president's decision, those cables were distributed to other participants who were involved in the review."

Actually, the fact that Holbrooke and Clinton's names were on the documents probably indicates they are in the clear. After all, who would be clumsy enough to leak his or her own copy, right? What's more, the Times story was written by Eric Schmitt, who primarily covers the Pentagon -- though that doesn't rule anyone out or in.

As Mother Jones noted, the documents, or copies of the documents, were given to the Times by an "American official" who believed Eikenberry's assessment is " important for the historical record."

One source told The Cable that the Eikenberry cables were passed around at one of Obama's now-famous principals' meetings, where top officials from a range of entities could have pocketed a copy. But Crowley declined to specify the range of people who had access.

"That's why we're doing the investigation. Highly sensitive, classified cables found their way into the hands of a very good and respected journalist. Notwithstanding our appreciation for a vigorous press, that shouldn't happen," Crowley said. "The release of classified information to those not authorized to have it is a crime."

Either way, it seems that predictions of Eikenberry's removal following the revelation, especially since his views ultimately did not win the day or convince President Obama, have not borne out. Eikenberry remains at his post and even spoke with Karzai last week following Karzai's rant about a Western conspiracy against him.

The Cable

All quiet on the nuclear front

Leading Republican critics of the Obama administration are holding their fire ahead of a big week in the world of nuclear weapons, with a series of landmark documents expected to drop in the coming days.

Several government sources said they anticipate the White House will release the unclassified portion of what's called the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) on Tuesday, Apr. 6, just two days before President Obama is set to sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia in Prague. The timing of both events is meant to show successes for the president's ambitious nuclear agenda before a 44-nation nuclear security summit convenes in Washington on April 12.

The substance of the documents shows the White House's effort to please its supporters in the arms-control community while not going so far in its changes to U.S. nuclear policy as to provoke leading conservatives who might want to pick fights over the issues.

"The White House is getting very adept at satisfying both constituencies," said Tom Donnelly, a fellow at the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute and someone who is normally not shy about criticizing the Obama administration, "Conservatives are taking more of a hopeful, wait and see attitude than you might expect."

Donnelly sees this middle-of-the-road approach as the result of internal compromises within the administration, chiefly between the White House and the Pentagon led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"Gates is fighting the good fight, so conservative want to support him too. We don't want to undermine the ‘moderate regime elements,'" Donnelly said. He added that Obama's choices also show he's "not going to spend a lot of political capital on the arms-control agenda."

Some influential conservatives do seem to be searching for a way to criticize START and the NPR, as liberal bloggers associated with the arms-control community have been quick to point out. Leading GOP senators like Jon Kyl, R-AZ, who have been vocal on the issues in the past, are waiting to see actual text of the documents before weighing in, aides say.

An administration official close to the issue said that conservatives are now contending that the reductions of nuclear weapons in the new nuclear treaty are so modest that the Obama administration is actually exaggerating its impact on nuclear reductions. If that's their point, the official said, then it will be tough to argue during ratification that the cuts undermine national security.

Another administration official described both the new START agreement and the NPR as "modest steps in the right direction."

Here are some of the examples of how the new nuclear agreements represent Obama's drive to change the direction of U.S. nuclear policy, but not too much:

  • On declaratory policy, the NPR is expected to say that the "primary" or "principal" or "fundamental" purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter or respond to a nuclear attack. That's not as daring as saying that's the "sole purpose" of nukes (as arms-control advocates want) but is much more clear than the complete ambiguity hawks would have liked to preserve.
  • On the decision that under new START, each bomber will be counted as "one" deployed nuclear weapon, that's also a middle-of-the-road solution. Defenders of the bomber fleet fear that counting bombers at all will lead to getting rid of them in favor of missiles and subs, which are more effective in an emergency anyway. Arms-control advocates feel that since bombers can actually carry over a dozen nukes, the counting rule could allow both sides to keep arsenals above the agreed limits.
  • On nuclear modernization, the administration really threaded the needle here. Gates is well known to have supported what's called the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a program Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher has adamantly opposed. So the NPR is expected to back up the president's budget, which provides lots of stuff related to "stockpile modernization" and a "life extension" program. When put together, these items can mollify GOP concerns about the aging stockpile while not actually committing to building a whole new warhead.
  • On missile defense, new START will contain an acknowledgement about the relationship between offensive and defensive systems, but won't contain any firm restraints on U.S. missile defense deployments that conservatives could sink their teeth into. Expect the NPR to follow suit.

Congressional sources said they haven't yet been told whether or not they will get advance briefings on the NPR, as their members are still out of town on recess. The NPR release date could slip because classification and clearance details are still not complete, they said.