How WikiLeaks could undo post-9/11 intelligence reforms
A former US diplomat who helped push for the intelligence-sharing reforms aimed at preventing another 9/11 says the WikiLeaks fiasco could prompt a reversal.
Governments are already using the WikiLeaks release of a trove of US diplomatic traffic to bolster their own international agendas, from Israel's push for military action against Iran, to Iran's effort to paint US engagement as insincere.Skip to next paragraph
But the WikiLeaks intelligence fiasco could have far-reaching implications for US diplomacy, well after the initial shock waves subside. By sending a message to America's counterparts and confidential informants around the world that the US can't keep conversations private, the controversy could severely compromise the quality of information US policymakers receive, and America's own ability to coordinate its diplomatic and antiterror efforts.
"This is immensely, immensely damaging," says Wayne White, a former senior official at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and now a scholar at the Middle East Institute. "You’ve got sources exposed out there ... many of them characterized as sources that need to be protected. So now we have governments who have been very frank with us who are no longer going to do so. If I were a foreign official I would be reluctant to ever be as frank with the American government as I’ve ever been before."
More damaging still, he worries, is that the leak could hinder intelligence-sharing reforms he helped push for after the 9/11 attacks. Those reforms – aimed at addressing the failure to share information across government agencies that often left key officials without the full picture, like a group of blind men describing different aspects of an elephant by touch – are seen as precisely what allowed WikiLeaks to obtain such extensive and sensitive documents, potentially from a low-ranking employee.
Many analysts have concluded that prior to the Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, crucial information that could have headed off the plot were in US government hands – but compartmentalized in such a way that no one could put it together. Why was that done? To prevent leaks like the more than 250,000 documents now in the hands of WikiLeaks and a few news outlets, only a fraction of which have so far been released to the public.