Michael's Dispatches

Just got this Email from Office of Secretary Gates


Q:  WikiLeaks:  Post-WikiLeaks reaction.  What's your sense on whether the information-sharing climate and environment created after 9/11 to encourage greater cooperation and transparency among the intelligence communities and the military led to these three massive data dumps?

And how concerned are you now there may be an overreaction to clamp down on information dispersal because of the disclosures?

A: SEC. GATES:  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.

And then we have some longer-term efforts under way in which we can -- and, first of all, in which we can identify anomalies, sort of like credit card companies do in the use of computer; and then finally, efforts to actually tailor access depending on roles.

But let me say -- let me address the latter part of your question.  This is obviously a massive dump of information.  First of all, I would say unlike the Pentagon Papers, one of the things that is important, I think, in all of these releases, whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq or the releases this week, is the lack of any significant difference between what the U.S. government says publicly and what these things show privately, whereas the Pentagon Papers showed that many in the government were not only lying to the American people, they were lying to themselves.

But let me -- let 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.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    SJP ONeill · 11 years ago
    That's a good and pretty straight-up answer from SECDEF...no tap-dancing, just here's how it is and, as he points out, Wikileaks is no Pentagon Papers; if anything it's just much ado about not much at all...the faster we move on from this, the quicker Assange et al are marginalised and become insignificant...the three methods that were already being implemented before this are good practical things to do and steer away from the kneejerk reaction of trying to 'balkanise' government and military information systems so that no one can access anything...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ronan · 11 years ago
    New card game: Julian Assange poker. It's like blind man's bluff but only the big and small blinds put their cards to their foreheads!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter · 11 years ago
    It appears that as the first wave of anxiety passes, more and more this will appear to be another case of "Much Ado." I am, though, admittedly intrigued by the teaser (read elsewhere) that Wikileaks may have its hands on a trove of banking documents that may stir the pot a bit more with respect to the current financial mess.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Capt in ANG, bu · 11 years ago
    I've been exceptionally frustrated reading classified in the news over the last 10 years. So, for me, I'm glad. I think it does a greater good because we need to hold people accountable who swear an oath, sign NDAs, and then proceed to ignore classifications. The pendulum will swing hard and the next few people who get caught leaking classified will get crucified. Then, maybe I can stop seeing "from a non-disclosed source," something I just read stamped SECRET the previous day.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joseph Meissner LTC- · 11 years ago
    It has always been a hard choice. On the one hand, the more information is shared, the more people can make proper decisions. On the other hand, the more information is shared, the greater the danger that information will reach the worng people. We need secrecy, yet too much secrecy leads to intelligence constipation. There are several lessons in all of this. When I put something on a computer or send it over an internet or other communications channel, i assume that "bin Laden" will be able to read it. Secondly, never send anything you would not share with your grandmother, such as critical assessments about leaders of other countries. Third, nothing is ever totally secure. I would like to hear from others.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Charles Maxwell, CDR · 11 years ago
    I read your enthusiasm with Gates and thought these comments below from Victor Hanson's daily post applied.

    From Victor Hanson:

    From Lady Gaga to Iranian Nukes

    Witness current events. A 22-year-old PFC Bradley Manning, without much experience, knowledge, or maturity, somehow becomes a “military analyst.” (I thought those were 2-star generals, RAND Ph.Ds, decorated colonels, or old Kissingerian National Security Council pros.)

    And in our culture without hierarchy and requisites that title apparently allows him — in between downloading Lady Gaga music while in a combat zone in Iraq—to tap into the secret cables of the U.S. State Department, and destroy two decades worth of diplomatic contacts, trust, and friendships.

    No matter — you see poor Bradley was also upset, depressed, and he felt underappreciated. In part, that was because his drag-queen boyfriend had recently dumped him. He was, in his own words, “regularly ignored except when I had something essential then it was back to ‘bring me coffee, then sweep the floor.’ … [I] felt like I was an abused work horse.”

    Iranian nukes? North Korean missiles? Again, no problem. Bradley, you see, was depressed and in response had the desire and the power to change the global order. (Or in 60s parlance, “who is to say that Bradley doesn’t have the right to shut down the diplomatic world?”) Even Bob Dylan would be impressed with how “the times they are a-changin’.”


    Next, enter one Julian Assange — himself on the lamb, avoiding a little sexy horseplay that the uptight Swedish authorities for some reason deemed thus far sexual battery and molestation. Jason is also angry at “them,” the Western world that does horrific things like guarantees enough affluence and security for those like Julian to jet about at will without any visible means of support. In the tradition of sixties nihilism, Julian, of course, tries to gussy up his destructive egotistical angst into some sort of cosmic humane call for more transparency and nice behavior on the part of the U.S. State Department and military.

    In more earthly terms that means he is supposed to be something more than a two-bit computer punk that he is, one who would be terrified to extend his online liberationist creed to Iranian mullahs, Chinese communists, Hezbollah terrorists, or Russian gang lords. The latter do far more to trample the human spirit than does any Western nation, but they also at times tend to decapitate, blow up, or jail permanently any would-be Julian who dares to cross them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    RichardG · 11 years ago
    Diplomacy, like mushrooms, grows best in darkness.
    As President Obama found out belatedly, full transparency in the *process* of negotiations is usually not beneficial. The ideas mooted during the decision-making process may sometimes appear (or be) inappropriate, but only those that are incorporated in the final decision are important, and should be disclosed to the public wherever possible. To disclose *everything* stifles dialectic, and results in sub-optimal decisions.

    Many of the Wikileaks documents fall into that category, it seems, and thus are subject to misinterpretation and being used out of context against our best interests.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    DC Rape · 11 years ago
    Actually, were he to be honest, he would have to admit that since the 70's we have had huge Humint problems. Since there were some abuses Congress took to the oversight Gates refers to. It resulted in an excessive reliance on technologically obtained intel and a destruction of Humint. The results were predictable and they remain. We leak and we can't be trusted to keep a secret. The bodies of those who worked with us litter the landscape. Further proof that the imblance between technology and Humit is broken lies in the fact that we can't even get OBL. The next issue is even more troubling. The post 9-11 changes were hasty, poorly thought out and the adverse, unintended consequences were totally predictable. Key people were ignored when they warned against these processes. The Wikileaks are a blessing in disguise. They revealed how amateurish the construct was and how compromised it has been. Fianl point. Yes, the front line has complained about poor intel for a long, long time. Sec Gates thinks that has been solved? Clearly, he is on the sunny side of the "all is going great" briefs and not out where harsh reality impacts like a freight train. Centurian 70
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jeff Stanley · 11 years ago
    The marginal cost of duplicating and transmitting information continues to drop toward zero. That fact is as etched in stone as the nuclear age. Attention Republicans: somehow or other we managed to transition to the latter without destroying American liberties, you know, the Bill of Rights and whatnot. Go figure.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John M McCarthy · 11 years ago
    After reading & hearing many of the so-called "highlights" of the 250,000 document dump, my conclusion is that most of it is gossip & name calling among ninnies.
    Indeed, most of the published documents are more personally embarrassing to a few people than dangerous disclosures of state secrets. Most of Iran's neighbors want us to nuke them? WOW! There's a surprise! Many world leaders think France's Sarkozy is thin skinned & a bit precious? Who'd athunk it?
    What wasn't published is the hiding places of Osama bin Laden or the names of the people who enable him. What wasn't published are the Iranian and/or North Korean nuclear codes. What wasn't published was the exit strategy of the United States military from Iraq and/or Afghanistan. What wasn't published was any sane, rational reason we're in either country in the first place!
    In other words, the WikiLeaks are much ado about nothing.
    We're neither more at risk nor safer than we were prior to their publication.
    A few people's cages got rattled, and that's all there is.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 11 years ago
    One of the most glaring and disturbing aspects of this leaked information is that the witch Billary is still up to same scandalous dirty tricks she employed while she was running the country by proxy of her puppet husband!

    Since when is it okay for that witch to gather private information on the government officials of our allies, our enemies yes, but our military allies? I don't think so. This is the same lowlife gestapo activity the witch deployed when she was in the WH jerking the strings of her philandering no count husband!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James Massey · 11 years ago
    I wrote that the Pentagon Papers came from wikileaks...I didn't mean that, entirely. The only time I've ever researched the pentagon papers I was led to wikileaks. Apparently, the way I understand, it's kind of the holy grail for Assange. He appreciated what was done in the 70's when those papers were leaked and sought to accomplish the same type of exposure for the people in government and behind the back deals.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SJP ONeill · 11 years ago
    "...Since when is it okay for that witch to gather private information on the government officials of our allies, our enemies yes, but our military allies?..."

    What nation does NOT do that? the little island nation of Nauru does this...if this was NOT happening in the US Government, THEN you would have real concerns about the competence of its staff...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon -- autho · 11 years ago
    Clarification on the Wikileaks Message from Secretary Gates

    For sake of accuracy -- some websites are reporting that I posed the Wikileaks question to Secretary Gates. I wish it were true because it was a great question and answer. In fact, I only re-posted an email from Geoff Morrell. Geoff is the Pentagon spokesman.... Geoff emailed to me and I posted.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    BravoBilly · 11 years ago
    You go, Debra!!! From an Army Brat and Veteran!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    BravoBilly · 11 years ago
    Thanks to Michael for your work in addressing the current issues from the inside.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nancy Pizzo · 11 years ago
    Hi Michael:

    I preordered your book and was just wondering what the anticipated ship date is? Also, thanks for all your fantastic research and sharing of what you participate in first-hand. I am slightly envious of you being able to move about like you do... but I vicariously try to gain a better understanding of the world over there through your writings! THANK YOU! I pray God keeps you safe in his sovereign hands!

    I also wanted to ask what your opinion is on some of the "truth" in what is rumored to have been released in some of the Wikileaks... like that we did have good reasons to go into Iraq... I would love to hear your opinions.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mono · 10 years ago
    The "Indispensable Nation..." just as the citizens of Rome, and Persia, and England thought. We are special, a new breed, different from all peoples who have lived before. When we invade "we're here to help." Many citizens of empires in decline have chosen to believe this fantasy, but it was very disappointing to hear it from Gates; the decline is in full sway. What Wikileaks showed to me was not how different we are from others who have held power throughout history, but how much the same. Gates got that part exactly right.

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