The release of thousands of classified documents by WikiLeaks is an act of political warfare against the United States. It was a publicity stunt to promote the organization’s leader, but also an attempt by non-US citizens to manipulate American perceptions of our soldiers’ actions and political leaders’ policies. Luckily the American public WikiLeaks intended to demoralize is savvy enough not to be thrown off balance by classified reports confirming the difficult factors of the current war. They also understand that some information must be restricted: our enemies do not operate from an open playbook and neither should the U.S. However, the leak will result in serious damage to national security and is yet another crisis in which the Obama administration has been caught utterly unprepared for the dangerous world we confront and the malefactors throughout. To prevent further damage, the WikiLeaks web site should be shut down—via cyberwarfare if necessary.
While WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange has sanctimoniously invoked the virtues of transparent government, he in fact has an anti-American agenda. The fact that the release of the documents was carefully coordinated with three leftwing news organizations says much. The Guardian (London), Der Spiegel (Hamburg) and the New York Times are three key pillars of the Left intelligentsia and consistent opponents of a strong U.S. foreign policy and national defense. They want an America constrained by self-doubt and able to act abroad only with an international permission slip. This is an agenda presumably shared by Mr. Assange, with whom the organizations allied in this matter.
Liberal news outlets spared no time in comparing the dissemination of classified information to the leak of the “Pentagon Papers” during the Vietnam War, which aided that era’s antiwar movement. Mr. Assange himself made the claim. However the comparison does not appear to be apt and the effect on U.S. support for the war appears to be minimal.
Indeed, on Capitol Hill, the revelation has been a sort of Rorschach test into which people will read what they like. War opponents perceive vindication in the travails revealed by the reports, even though they exist in any war. Others who believe in the need to pursue the Afghan War have taken notice of reports that the anti-Taliban effort has not been optimal. There is little that is not consistent with what Pentagon leaders have already reported to Congress and the American people. Congress calmly passed a supplemental appropriation for the Afghan War after the WikiLeaks revelation.
Nonetheless, WikiLeaks and its accomplices have done real damage to national security. A small number of the reports have been discovered to contain “sources and methods”—two factors that make intelligence much more damaging if leaked. Unlike most classified memoranda, which is restricted from the public because its release might conceivably impair the formation or execution of national security policy, the more dangerous release of sources and methods of intelligence collection can get people killed and have a measurable and prompt impact on national security. WikiLeaks provided the public with both kinds of material—so much so that even the New York Times chose to redact some reports with names of Afghan information-providers.
The release is highly likely to cost lives as the Taliban targets named informants for assassination. People will be less willing to cooperate with the U.S. This is a shame. While there is a long history of CIA agents getting killed through the compromise of sources, the U.S. military had a stronger record on this—one of many reasons they have been able to cooperate well with locals in recent counterinsurgency operations. Enemies and strategic competitors of the United States will review every single report on WikiLeaks to learn not only specific information, but to draw more general insights on how the U.S. collects and uses information. Our strong and weak points will be noted and our adversaries’ strategies adjusted accordingly.
What is to be done? For one thing, the Obama administration might start taking the War on Terror seriously and see this as political warfare, not free speech. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stated pathetically that all we could do was ask WikiLeaks not to post more reports, which it is expected to do. Congress should investigate if we are truly so helpless. Can we not insist that our NATO ally Iceland, where the site is hosted, shut the site? Can we not use cyberwarfare to close the site and prevent subsequent disclosures? Can we not ask our British allies, with their more robust Official Secrets Act, to pursue participants who fall under British jurisdiction?
Congress should also investigate how an intelligence leak of this magnitude could take place. Reports indicate that Army Private Bradley Manning is suspected of being the source. How is it that anyone, much less an Army private, can first access and then steal this mountain of classified information? This contravenes the most basic tenets of compartmentalizing intelligence and tracking its consumption. If the Obama administration values the lives of those who cooperate with the U.S. and provide us with vital information, we would expect to see serious actions taken in response. But once unlawful dissemination was detected, what serious steps were taken to contain the information? What systemic corrective actions have been taken to guard against the next Private Manning having the means and opportunity to violate his oath of office in the service of anti-Americans abroad? These questions need to be answered. So far, as with so many crises of the past two years, the Obama White House comes across as a deer in the headlights.
Mr. Yates was deputy national security adviser to the U.S. vice president from 2001 to 2005. Mr. Whiton was a State Department official from 2003 to 2009 and served as a deputy special envoy. They are respectively the president and principal of D.C. International Advisory LLC.