Long term, cablegate will harm intel-sharing and US counter-terror efforts

As bloggers, foreign diplomats and freedom of information evangelists revel in what twitter invariably named #cablegate, concern should also be expressed for the long term consequences of the leak by a disillusioned US military officer.

As bloggers, foreign diplomats and freedom of information evangelists revel in what twitter invariably named #cablegate, concern should also be expressed for the long term consequences of the leak by a disillusioned US military officer.

This concern is different from the widespread worries about the damage Wikileaks will do to US diplomacy, military planning, covert operations or even human intelligence assets for the problem lies in the risk of the US government’s reaction to the incident and the danger it that poses to future internal information sharing within the US intelligence community.

The US intelligence community was blamed in the wake of 9/11 for failing to ‘connect the dots’ of terrorist plans and communications with the lack of internal intelligence sharing between the CIA, FBI and NSA in particular being cited by the 9/11 Commission as a core concern in the aftermath of the attacks.

Indeed, the Commission stressed:

“The need to restructure the intelligence community grows out of six problems that have become apparent before and after 9/11:

“Structural barriers to performing joint intelligence work. National intelligence is still organized around the collection disciplines of the home agencies, not the joint mission.

“The importance of integrated, all-source analysis cannot be overstated. Without it, it is not possible to ‘connect the dots’. No one component holds all the relevant information.”

As a result, the US government changed its systems and regulations on internal information sharing, moving towards a kind of intelligence library as recommended to the Bush Administration by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft.

As The Guardian today reports, the result was the creation of:

“…a programme under which selected dispatches, considered moderately secret but suitable for sharing with other agencies, would be automatically loaded on to secure embassy websites, and linked with the military’s Siprnet internet system…

“More than 3 million US government personnel and soldiers, many extremely junior, are cleared to have potential access to this material, even though the cables contain the identities of foreign informants, often sensitive contacts in dictatorial regimes.”

Whilst few would argue that sharing this much information with this many personnel was wise, the risk is that pressure from Congress and/or the Administration itself will now push the intelligence community too far back in terms of compartmentalising information making the task of ‘connecting the dots’ – particularly in counter-terrorism – that much more difficult.

The Obama Administration would do well to heed the warning of former Bush Administartion Director of Central Intelligence General Michael Hayden who said in response to the earlier Wikileaks dump:

“…senior leadership in the country will have to guard against over-reaction.”

Guarding against that overreaction in the days and weeks ahead will be as difficult as it is necessary.

16 Responses to “Long term, cablegate will harm intel-sharing and US counter-terror efforts”

  1. Marcus A. Roberts

    RT @leftfootfwd: Long term, #cablegate will harm intel-sharing and US counter-terror efforts: //bit.ly/eWUHs0 writes @MarcusARoberts

  2. Shamik Das

    Long term, #cablegate will harm intel-sharing and US counter-terror efforts: //bit.ly/eWUHs0 writes @MarcusARoberts on @leftfootfwd

  3. The Green Benches

    This will cause tension on the streets of Riyadh and in that sense will cost lives. Nobody wins from leaks like these.

  4. Anon E Mouse

    Does anyone know who’s leaking this stuff? Seems pretty irresponsible to me…

  5. Marcus A. Roberts

    Green Benches: The Yemeni stuff is pretty worrying too.
    Anon E Mouse: the second link leads you here: //www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1333982/WikiLeaks-US-Army-soldier-Bradley-Manning-prime-suspect-leaks-case.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

  6. Alan N.

    The blow to the intelligence community in the form of reduced cooperation will be catastrophic.

  7. Akheloios

    Since when has access to more information on which to base decisions ever been a bad thing? These cables show a tin-pot, corrupt dictatorship, drunk with a sense of their own importance. It’s only good for everyone that the isolating bubble of secrecy has been punctured. Maybe now they’ll base policy on evidence and peer review rather than the incestuous trading of internal memos.

  8. Marcus A. Roberts

    What my article //tinyurl.com/38ukejl warned about @jaketapper Post-Wikileaks,WH PushesGovt toBatten DownHatches //abcn.ws/hs65Rl

  9. Frank Spring

    RT @leftfootfwd, @marcusaroberts: Long term, cablegate will harm intel-sharing and US counter-terror efforts //bit.ly/g2FcO3

  10. Nigel Wootton

    I believe that Wikileaks provide invaluable information to the public. For instance, Prince Andrews’ aggressively patronising attitude towards America should ensure his exclusion from being Business Ambassador. We need someone more socially aware, and adept for the job. However, as Left Foot Forward say, information security in the U.S. military should be more expertly controlled in order to prevent military secrets becoming public, and also terrorist domain. Other security services should also take note

  11. Mr. Sensible

    I am not sure what interest this leak serves apart from someone’s ego.

  12. Nastya

    I do agree with the criticism on the irresponsible leaking of intelligence. But when one is an evangelist of liberal values (of which freedom of speech is a core element) as most of the top political figures in the western world claim to be, you have to be ready to accept the both the pros and the cons of the values you preach. You cannot put a cap on the freedom of speech. It’s hypocritical to criticize so harshly other countries for their poor record in the freedom of speech and when we have to face the possible consequences of irresponsible journalism suddenly wishing there was a barrier to the freedom of speech in some domains.

  13. Marcus A. Roberts

    Alan N: exactly – less co-operation with international partners, less co-operation within the US intelligence community.
    Akheloios: “Since when has access to more information on which to base decisions ever been a bad thing?” That’s precisely the point: this will result in national security personnel having access to less information in the future.
    Nigel Wootton: am not convinced that the value added by the Prince Andrew ‘revelations’ (or similar bits and pieces about Putin, Merkel etc.) are so compelling in terms of public interest as to warrent the damage that this will cause long term.
    Mr Sensible: Egos may well be swelled by then by Interpol arrest warrants!
    Nastya: As you say you “agree with the criticism on the irresponsible leaking of intelligence” the question instantly becomes that of drawing the line between disclosure and openness. My analysis is that Wikileaks have crossed that line to the harm not benefit of the public.

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    […] at what cost has all this information come? On Monday, Left Foot Forward’s Marcus Roberts reported that, long term, cablegate risks harming intelligence-sharing and US counter-terrorism […]

  15. Two-thirds of Lib Dem general election voters against fees u-turn | Left Foot Forward

    […] other poll findings, 48% believe Wikileaks was wrong to publish its cache of secret diplomatic cables (37% said it was right), 43% say the US government would not be justified (against 38% who believe […]

  16. Marcus A. Roberts

    @cr_celab @tomwatson argument against wikileaks in ethical terms //t.co/IhBoRbH @tomwatson &from me on intel damage //t.co/JNWW3S8

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