from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 82
October 18, 2010
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
DOD SEES NO INTEL COMPROMISE FROM WIKILEAKS DOCS
The unauthorized release of tens of thousands of classified U.S. military records from the war in Afghanistan last July on the Wikileaks website did not result in the disclosure of sensitive intelligence sources, according to a mid-August assessment by the Department of Defense that has just been made public.
"The review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure," wrote Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates in an August 16 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin.
This is consistent with the fact that the Afghan war documents disclosed by Wikileaks were classified at the collateral Secret level and were not compartmented intelligence records. Intelligence source identities and related information would normally not appear in Secret documents.
On the other hand, Secretary Gates wrote, "the documents do contain the names of cooperative Afghan nationals and the Department takes very seriously the Taliban threats recently discussed in the press. We assess this risk as likely to cause significant harm or damage to the national security interests of the United States and are examining mitigation options."
The Taliban threats mentioned by Secretary Gates include a statement by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who said on July 29 that the Taliban were studying the Wikileaks documents in order to identify and punish Afghan collaborators. "We will investigate through our own secret service whether the people mentioned are really spies working for the U.S. If they are U.S. spies, then we know how to punish them," the Taliban spokesman said.
"People named in those documents have a reasonable belief that they are going to get killed," said author and New Yorker writer Steve Coll, who has reported extensively from the region. See "Taliban Study WikiLeaks to Hunt Informants" by Robert Mackey, New York Times The Lede, July 30:
However, there is no evidence to date that the Taliban has carried out any such threats against individuals who were named in the Wikileaks documents.
The release of the August 16 Gates memo was reported on October 15 by the Associated Press and Bloomberg News.
REVISITING THE DECISION TO GO TO WAR IN IRAQ
It is to be expected that national intelligence services will sometimes fail to identify and discover a threat to the nation in a timely fashion. But when intelligence warns of a threat that isn't really there, and then nations go to war to meet the phantom threat -- that is a serious, confounding and deeply disturbing problem.
But in a nutshell, that is the story of the war in Iraq, in which the U.S. and its allies attacked Saddam Hussein's Iraq because of the supposedly imminent threat posed by Saddam's stockpile of weapons of mass destruction -- a threat that proved illusory.
A new book published in the United Kingdom called "Failing Intelligence" provides a remarkable account of the British experience of how intelligence on the Iraqi WMD program was shaped and packaged to support the decision to go to war in Iraq. The book's author, Brian Jones, was the chief specialist in weapons of mass destruction on the UK Defence Intelligence Staff. He was also a skeptic of the stronger claims made about the existence of Iraqi WMD stockpiles. The book documents his mostly unsuccessful attempts to register that skepticism, to moderate the extreme claims made by government officials, and later to hold those officials accountable for their actions.
He provides a detailed first-hand account of how his efforts were consistently deflected in the rush to war, and how intelligence declined into propaganda. It's a grim but instructive case study in the overlapping failure of intelligence gathering, intelligence production, and intelligence oversight.
The National Security Archive has recently published three richly informative collections of declassified U.S. and British government documents on the lead-up to the Iraq war (including several key documents cited or relied upon by Brian Jones).
"The more deeply the processes of creating the government reports on the alleged Iraqi threat are reconstructed -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- the more their products are revealed as explicitly aimed at building a basis for war," wrote John Prados of the National Security Archive and journalist Christopher Ames in an analysis of the documents.
"In the light of a decision process in which no serious consideration was given to any course other than war, the question of whether American and British leaders set out to wage aggressive war has to be squarely faced," they wrote.
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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