Leaking news, to feel the pulse or force the pace
NEW YORK- At the height of the Watergate scandal- which triggered the ouster of an American president from the Oval Office in the mid-1970s- one of the biggest unresolved mysteries was the identity of the senior official who kept leaking stories to the Washington Post. Hinting that an insider at the White House may have been the source, a sharp-witted politician at that time remarked rather aptly that "the ship of state always leaks at the top." The whistle blower- code-named Deep Throat after a not-so-famous porno flick popular in the early 1970s- still remains unidentified although the guessing game has continued for nearly three decades. Every US administration is known to have mastered the well-orchestrated art of secretly planting stories in the mainstream media to suit its own vested interests- and then crying foul in public. Over the last few weeks, the news leaks have apparently come from the Pentagon provoking angry protests from senior administration officials. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sounded outraged last week when he warned that leaking military secrets is wrong and against the law.

"It costs the lives of Americans. And it diminishes our country's chance for success," he said in a memo to Pentagon officials. Rumsfeld also said that releasing classified information was a violation of federal criminal law. "And if we find out who they are, they will be imprisoned." The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have all run a series of news stories detailing US military plans for an attack on Iraq. The leaks could obviously come from those opposed to the war - or in the alternative, even from administration officials who want either to keep the Iraqi military on edge, or send a trial balloon to generate reaction from European and Arab allies. Nothing has been left to imagination: the stories have revealed the military strategy to attack Iraq from the air, land and sea covering the north, south and western flanks; the identity of neighbouring countries that may be used as staging areas to launch the attacks; the estimated $80 billion cost of the war, to be funded exclusively by the US, and its possible devastating impact on the American economy. The Bush administration is divided between right-wing hawks who want the country to go to war- even if it means singlehandedly- and those who want European, UN and Arab cooperation before launching another military adventure overseas. A former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and an ex National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft- both senior members of the ruling Republican Party- have said that even though they favour the ouster of President Saddam Hussein, the US is proceeding in a way that alienates US allies, creates greater instability in the Middle East, and harms long-term American interests in the region. Scowcroft, who under the senior President George Bush organised the US-led military coalition against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, said: "An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardise, if not destroy, the global counter-terrorist campaign we have undertaken." France and Germany too have come out publicly against a war on Iraq as being inappropiately timed- particularly when the priority should be to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian military confrontation. And more importantly, a US military attack on Iraq without UN Security Council authorisation would be tantamount to aggression. "To date, no branch of the US government has officially explained a basis on which an attack on Iraq would be lawful", John Quigley, professor of international law at Ohio State University, said last week. He argues that the only basis for one state to use military force unilaterally against another is self defense against an "armed attack". "The United States is not being attacked by Iraq. And under the UN charter, an armed attack must be ongoing and present speculation about a future attack is not sufficient for a state to use armed force against another state," Quigley pointed out. The 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War- aimed at ousting Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait- was authorised by the 15-member Security Council. The only negative votes came from Cuba and Yemen. Last week President Bush said he had not reached a decision on Iraq - although he has reiterated his call for "a regime change" in Baghdad to oust President Saddam Hussein. But rightwi-ngers have expressed the view that an attack on Iraq is inevitable because it is not only in possession of weapons of mass destruction but also a threat to the world at large. Last month President Bush said that he also believes in "pre-emptive strikes" against countries that either foment terorrism or continue to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Asked if any Security Council resolutions provide for a member state to use military means to change a regime in another state, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "This is not a UN policy, and the Security Council has not taken any decision of the kind." Annan also told reporters last week that he does not support any pre-emptive strikes against Iraq. "My position has always been very clear, that I think it would be unwise to attack Iraq, given the current circumstances of what's happening in the Middle East".

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