The recent congressional ire over the Obama administration's suspiciously convenient national security leaks reminded me of an unusual bit of political trivia: Defense Secretary -- and prior to that, CIA head -- Leon Panetta is the prime suspect in one of the most notorious political leaks of all time.

Tevi Troy, a former Bush administration official and the author of Intellectuals and the American Presidency, wrote about this when Panetta was first tapped by the Obama administration for the CIA:

After the 1968 campaign, Nixon hired Pat Moynihan–who had served as assistant secretary of labor for policy in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations–as his urban-affairs adviser and all-around White House intellectual. Moynihan was already a somewhat controversial figure, having authored a report called “The Black Family: Then and Now,” which attributed the disproportionate poverty in the black community to rising illegitimacy. The liberal intelligentsia pilloried Moynihan for this conclusion, and he left the Department of Labor not long after his authorship of the report became public. ...

The memo was leaked to the press, and on March 1, the New York Times ran an article headlined “‘Benign Neglect’ on Race Is Proposed by Moynihan.” The White House was swamped with criticism from civil-rights leaders and editorial pages, and Moynihan had to hold a press conference to defend himself. ...

Although memos leak all the time, and the leakers are rarely identified, The New Republic’s John Osborne reported in a March 1970 profile of Moynihan that Leon Panetta was a prime suspect in the leak.

There was certainly some reason for the suspicion. In February, Panetta had resigned from HEW because he opposed the Nixon administration’s approach to desegregation. Panetta later went to work for New York mayor John Lindsay, switched parties, and successfully ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1976. The leaker has never been definitively identified.

Troy suggested that senators use to the occasion of Panetta's CIA confirmation hearings to ascertain whether Panetta was the Moynihan memo leaker, as being able to keep a secret would seem to be an important qualification for that post. He also raised the issue again when Panetta was tapped to head up the Department of Defense. There is no particular reason to suspect that Panetta is behind the current spate of leaks, and outwardly Panetta seems to be a committed public servant. But given the seriousness of the national security issues involved, maybe we shouldn't rule out anyone.

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