Peter Brookes: Whatever happened to ‘no comment’?
June 9, 2012
Last week's media bombshell that we'd infiltrated the Iranian nuclear program with a super-secret computer virus made it undeniable: There's been way too much aired about sensitive U.S. operations in the past year or so.
Someone ought to tell Team Obama.
It started with the Osama bin Laden takedown last May, in which operational and intelligence details found their way out of the White House Situation Room to the press in just hours. In a slap at the leakers, then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates said, "We all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden … That all fell apart on Monday — the next day."
The situation was made worse by exposing the role a Pakistani doctor played in finding bin Laden. The doc now is going to jail for 30-some years — and the crafty inoculation program meant to get Osama's DNA is blown.
This year, info escaped about the busting of the plot to put an "underwear bomber" on a U.S.-bound aircraft by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
While kudos goes to the intel community for this counterterrorism op, it was revealed the expected bomber was a double agent who'd penetrated AQAP. Now al-Qaida knows, too.
Then, late last week, came a news story on "Stuxnet," the tippy-top-secret U.S.-Israel cyberassault on Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz that's been going on since the George W. Bush presidency. It's terrific the cyberattack reportedly led to the destruction of some centrifuges used in Iran's bomb program, but now the mullahs know who was behind the op.
All this boastful blabbing risks big consequences.
First, it's likely to hurt future operations. It's not like we'll never want to use these techniques again — but they'll be harder to pull off now that we've given the bad guys glimpses of our playbook. For the same reason, these revelations put our brave intelligence officers and special operators deeper in harm's way.
And telling Iran who did a number on their nuclear plant likely will lead to attempts at revenge. Iran is no cyberslouch; wonder what U.S. targets now have bull's-eyes on their circuitry?
Nor can this eye-opener have any positive effect on Washington's far-flung hopes for a peaceful, diplomatic settlement with Tehran regarding its nuclear program.
And with all this out in the open, it'll certainly be harder to lecture others — such as China and Russia — on their cyber conduct.
Naturally, leaks also affect our ability to recruit folks for future operations. Who wants to work for Uncle Sam if his name may be splashed across a newspaper's front page? Jail is the gentlest of downsides if that happens.
Plus, Washington's hemorrhaging of secrets is sure to give foreign governments pause about cooperating with us. That can't be good.
We throw around the phrase "too much information" a lot in social banter, but TMI applies to our national security, too. Maybe the administration thinks TMI means "tell more intelligence"?
What happened to "no comment"?
The leaking can't help but lead one to think Team Obama is so insecure about its national-security image that it thinks it must dish data about these classified operations for purely political purposes. If so, that's shameful.
Regardless of the reason, though, the growing litany of leaks needs to stop ASAP.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. He is an honorary director of The Steamboat Institute. Brookes will lead a discussion titled "It's Not Just the Economy: America's Foreign Policy Challenges" at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at The Ranch at Steamboat, 1800 Ranch Road. Admission is $10 and includes hors d'oeuvres. RSVP to 970-367-6084.