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August 19, 2004
Kerry Loves A Crowd

The Washington Post reports today on a kerfuffle between the Kerry campaign and the national-security bureaucracy on setting up security briefings for John Kerry. Dana Milbank reports that Kerry's insistence on having a larger team handle the briefings outside of Washington has provided the largest stumbling block:

Aides to President Bush and John F. Kerry are sparring over the terms for intelligence briefings for the Democratic presidential nominee, delaying the post-convention overview typically given to the challenger.

Those on Bush's side say the Kerry campaign is insisting on having briefings outside of Washington -- a hardship for top CIA officials during a time of heightened threats -- and is demanding that an unusually large number of Kerry advisers be permitted to participate in the highly classified sessions. Those on Kerry's side say it is the Bush administration that has been slow to deal with the logistics, including security clearances, needed for the briefings.

Of course, it's worth noting that up to a month ago, one of the people who would have been demanding a security clearance for these meetings would have been Kerry's national-security policy advisor for the campaign, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, who got caught months ago stuffing highest-classification notes and documents into his clothing and making some of them disappear -- and who failed to inform Kerry he was under investigation. One cannot fault the security apparatus from treating others in the Kerry campaign with a bit more caution as a result.

Another point that Milbank makes, although at the end of his uncharacteristically balanced article, is that the history of these briefings show that only the candidates themselves and an additional one or two aides ever received clearances for these "eyes-only" meetings. Milbank doesn't disclose how many people Kerry submitted for clearances, but if the use of the word "large" is any kind of accurate indication, it seems that Kerry is deliberately abusing the process, perhaps forcing the administration to object so he can claim partisanship:

According to a paper about such briefings written by the CIA, the preelection sessions for nominees have typically been open to the presidential candidate, the vice presidential nominee and one or two aides, and have been held in various locations. Carter was briefed with Walter F. Mondale and two aides. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was joined by George H.W. Bush and three aides. In 1988, Michael S. Dukakis received the briefing with Lloyd Bentsen, one aide and two members of the House intelligence committee. In 1992, Bill Clinton was joined by Al Gore and two lawmakers.

One point not made by Milbank is that both Kerry and John Edwards are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, where they should be able to review most of the data anyway. Why do they need a large number of aides to be cleared for these briefings? They have repeatedly relied on their committee membership as a qualification for them to step into the executive branch -- especially Edwards, whose incomplete first term in the Senate (or anywhere else) has been interrupted further by his campaiging in the primaries and now in the general election.

My guess is that Kerry's no-show record for the committee -- 76%, which led even his staff to confuse Kerry with Senator Bob Kerrey -- would be repeated at these briefings as well, in spirit if not corporeally. He doesn't want to be bothered to travel back to Washington for a national-security briefing, and it looks like even if he did, he'd not give it much attention, relying on aides instead.

Is this the kind of attention that national security would receive under a Kerry administration? Sadly, the answer appears to be yes.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 19, 2004 6:21 AM

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