US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has issued a stinging poohpooh to the idea that the ongoing, long-drawn out release by Wikileaks of data allegedly supplied to it by a low-ranking American soldier will have any significant effect on the operations of the US government.
During a briefing earlier this week, Mr Gates offered the following pungent comment on the huge media "Wikileaks" circus which has been underway ever since the website first began releasing the material allegedly supplied to it by Private Bradley Manning earlier this year.
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 those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought.
Advancing reasons for this assessment, Gates said that "every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time". As a long-time CIA officer before he became Defense chief, Gates said he remembered the long-ago days when the US spooks were brought under political supervision. Predictably this led to them becoming massively leakier, but the expected, disastrous shunning by overseas spies failed to materialise.
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.
Gates added that Manning - a very junior soldier indeed who holds the lowest rank in the US Army's enlisted structure - shouldn't have been able to trawl as much classified information as he allegedly did, and should never have been able to get it off his government system and away to Wikileaks as easily as he allegedly did. The post-9/11 push to share intelligence around the US government had gone too far, and measures were now going into place to claw back some of the (limited) secrecy of the old days.
First ... 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.
Gates reiterated his basic point, that in fact the US government - perhaps in common with all governments to some degree, surely all governments with any aspirations towards freedom - had been very leaky for centuries and with Wikileaks (or more accurately with Bradley Manning) there was very little new under the sun. Even the assertion that leaks will ruin everything has been made forever:
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.”
John Adams, as many readers will no doubt remember, was the United States' first vice-president and second president. Bradley Manning, meanwhile, has been in military custody since June and faces courtmartial on an array of charges. ®