Behind the WikiLeaks’ Leak

Published on consortiumnews, by Charles Pena, January 19, 2011 (Corrected January 20, 2011).

(Editor’s Note: In the face of the WikiLeaks release of thousands of American diplomatic cables, Official Washington is looking to toughen U.S. secrecy laws – or at least to broaden interpretations of the old Espionage Act – in ways that would establish a sort of global secrecy regime, allowing for the arrest of even non-Americans for exposing U.S. secrets.
However, the WikiLeaks rupture of secrets was largely the fault of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 policy of granting even low-level intelligence personnel the ability to access secrets way beyond their “need to know,” as the Independent Institute’s Charles Pena notes in this guest essay. (Correction: an earlier version misattributed the authorship of this article.
):

The continuing WikiLeaks controversy has focused needed attention on a number of important issues: whether, for example, Julian Assange was justified in releasing classified information in order to make government more accountable, whether the release of the information put U.S. intelligence sources and methods at risk, and whether the legitimate need for secrecy in certain government activities occasionally provides cover for government activities that public officials would have trouble justifying if they took place in the open. 

Somewhat lost in the shuffle is the question of how and why the alleged leaker, Army Private Bradley Manning, could have access to so much classified information.

Part of the answer lies in the post-9/11 belief that more information shared between government intelligence agencies, federal, state, and local law enforcement, and even the military could have averted that fateful day.

So the mantra of controlling classified information shifted from “need to know” to “need to share” … //

… But “need to share” is not the same thing as granting everyone with a top-secret clearance access to everything.

Rather than allowing individuals such as Pvt. Manning to be able to “pull” whatever information they want at will, information needs to be “pushed” by those that have the information to those who need it. Presumably, those parties will have made the decision to exchange information beforehand so both parties know what kind of information is being shared and why.

But the real hidden lesson of Pvt. Manning and WikiLeaks is the false belief that the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, could have been prevented had our intelligence community not suffered a communication breakdown, and that broad information sharing will prevent future terrorist attacks. That’s not the source of our problem — any more than more security is the answer.

The harsh reality is that as long as our terrorist adversaries are willing to try to attack us, they will eventually succeed. So we need to understand the root causes of their hatred and how they are able to motivate and recruit those who would attack us.

The one cause we continue to ignore (and we don’t need WikiLeaks to tell us about because it’s not a secret) is America’s interventionist foreign policy, especially the stationing of U.S. military forces in Muslim countries. That is an act of war in the minds of many Muslims … (full text).

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