What’s Behind Conway’s Aleppo Moment?

We’ve heard the jokes; we’ve seen the memes.  Kellyanne Conway is now a national laughing stock.  Which happens, so big whoop, right?

For those few of you who may have missed this story, CNN published the best account I can find — not snarky, not snotty at all, which is worthy of note as they tend to give Conway a hard time whenever they can.

If you don’t want to read it, what happened was, Conway was doing an interview on MSNBC doing spin control on the recent immigration ban when she misspoke.  “I bet it’s brand-new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green Massacre. Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered…”

Well, there’s some truth there.  There were two Iraqis arrested in Bowling Green, skilled bomb-makers, but for attempted gunrunning to ISIL.  There was a response with regard to the vetting process, but it was the FBI, and massive, and underreported, but not a ban per se.  And she’s not the first one to talk about this as a terror attack — more on that later.

Mostly, though, she seemed to be just spouting semi-connected words, most of which were wrong in the context.  Her correction later was that she “meant to say “Bowling Green terrorists””, but that’s just part of it.  She’s been doing spin pretty constantly since the inauguration, and so that she lost focus is unsurprising; were it me repeating the same prepared script over and over, I’d be likely to have a brain-cramp too.

But the interesting part of this to me is that she’s not the first to mention this and later retract.  A couple days earlier, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who had been on the Homeland Security Committee, mentioned on Morning Joe that there had been a bombing prevented there.  Curiously, two years before, Rep. Peter King (not the sharpest mind), who had also served on the Homeland Security Committee in the House, had also referred to an attack that had been prevented.

This is interesting, and does make one speculate; the altRight on Reddit had some fun with it, and there may actually be some substance.  After all, the FBI is the organization that would normally run this sort of investigation, and they make a policy of keeping their mouths shut.  We do have a quote from the prosecution of these two (from the WaPo story, who got it from ABC) : “Prosecutors later revealed at Hammadi’s sentencing hearing that he and Alwan had been caught on an FBI surveillance tape talking about using a bomb to assassinate an Army captain…”

One question, then, is this:  What is there that was not revealed at trial, but that might have been shared at Homeland Committee and then White House briefings?  Is it possible that each of these people may have been absent-mindedly, and in contravention of security rules, referring to a real attack on Bowling Green that was prevented?  Because that’s kinda what it sounds like.

And, if so, it’s actually a bit more worrying than a spokesperson having an Aleppo Moment.  It tells me that high-level briefings are being given to politicians (and yes, Conway) who can’t keep their mouths shut afterward.  This is not a new problem; this declassified document is one of my favorite examples of a president trying to keep a muzzle on this sort of thing — and getting no end of crap about it afterward.

But Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Peter King were each serious contenders for candidacy this past primary cycle.  Recent and very partisan leaks came from high-profile senators on the Intelligence Committee; I mentioned it in my article on the so-called Russian hacking.  And I named names — Diane Feinstein and Marco Rubio, though to be sure, Harry Reid and John McCain were also likely candidates for the accusation and had done so before.  I could keep listing instances of this, but what would be the point?  It’s generally understood that our elected representatives can’t resist the opportunity to spill classified info for political gains even though this is the very thing Snowden’s in trouble for — as a matter of conscience, in his case.

Now, what I’m talking about here with regard to Bowling Green is pure speculation, unsubstantiated.  And the names above are also, due to journalistic ethics, just guesses.  None of this is actionable; it’s even possible I’ve just said something very unjust about Marco Rubio, for example — which is important to remember when you’re reading this sort of piece; it’s just gossip until it comes to trial.

The control of classified information is an important problem, and, to be honest, that’s what I see here.  I could easily be wrong in this specific case, but not in general.  And you’ll never see it reported, because this sort of leak is bread and butter to an investigative journalist, and it’s what feeds the news cycle when the Trump Administration isn’t busy dominating it.  Knowing it’s possible acts as a restraint on government, and keeps it from doing things that are too horrific for fear it’ll get out — and it certainly will if there’s political hay to be made.

And there really ought to be an open and frank discussion on this topic.  We avoid it now, but the moment there’s an administration in power that wishes to muzzle the press and stifle free speech, there’s going to be some really tight secrecy laws put in place.  That reporters may go to jail only bothers me a little; that’s their job — but if the Executive starts jailing Congressmen wholesale, we’re going to have us a big problem.

I’m not going to tell you what to think about leaks here.  That’s not my job.  But I am going to tell you to think.

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