01 Dec 2010

“Every Other Government in the World Knows the United States Government Leaks Like a Sieve”

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Michael Yon passed along this email from the office of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in which Gates magisterially dismisses the significance of Julian Assange’s latest revelations.

One of the common themes that I heard from the time I was a senior agency official in the early 1980s in every military engagement we were in was the complaint of the lack of adequate intelligence support. That began to change with the Gulf War in 1991, but it really has changed dramatically after 9/11.

And clearly the finding that the lack of sharing of information had prevented people from, quote/unquote, “connecting the dots” led to much wider sharing of information, and I would say especially wider sharing of information at the front, so that no one at the front was denied — in one of the theaters, Afghanistan or Iraq — was denied any information that might possibly be helpful to them. Now, obviously, that aperture went too wide. There’s no reason for a young officer at a forward operating post in Afghanistan to get cables having to do with the START negotiations. And so we’ve taken a number of mitigating steps in the department. I directed a number of these things to be undertaken in August.

First, the — an automated capability to monitor workstations for security purposes. We’ve got about 60 percent of this done, mostly in — mostly stateside. And I’ve directed that we accelerate the completion of it.

Second, as I think you know, we’ve taken steps in CENTCOM in September and now everywhere to direct that all CD and DVD write capability off the network be disabled. We have — we have done some other things in terms of two-man policies — wherever you can move information from a classified system to an unclassified system, to have a two-person policy there. …

[L]et me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not.”

To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel.”

When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-’70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again if we were going to share it all with the Congress. Those fears all proved unfounded.

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think — I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. Many governments — some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation.

So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another.

Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

Ouch! One can picture Julian Assange’s flaccid lower lip protruding glumly at being so contemptuously dismissed, and in the middle of his most recent 15 minutes of fame, too.

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