The ongoing media hype about classified documents being published on the website Wikileaks.org may prove to be the exact outcome the leaker intended. According to intelligence company Stratfor, “all of what has been released so far has been not-so-sensitive material rated secret or below.” What is being discussed is not revelatory information, but the act of the leak.
In the case of the WikiLeaks, what is revealed also is not far from what most people believed, although they provide enormous detail. Nor is it that far from what government and military officials are saying about the war. No one is saying the war is going well, though some say that given time it might go better.
The data dump posted by Wikileaks includes 92,000 pages of documents, but does it contain a selection of documents sufficient to provide a comprehensive view of the reality on the ground? According to The New York Times, the answer is no.
Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan— cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.
This would put this material in the same category as that which was used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq – raw intelligence documents that purported to prove that Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing a weapons of mass destruction program.
In previous Administrations, such data had been made available to under-secretaries only after it was analyzed, usually in the specially secured offices of INR. The whole point of the intelligence system in place, according to Thielmann, was “to prevent raw intelligence from getting to people who would be misled.” Bolton, however, wanted his aides to receive and assign intelligence analyses and assessments using the raw data. In essence, the under-secretary would be running his own intelligence operation, without any guidance or support. “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get C.I.A. information directly,” Thielmann said.
Following news reports such as the one cited above, this practice – selectively choosing raw intelligence that supports a predetermined policy position or strategy – was widely condemned by the very people who now accept without a moment’s critical thought the documents that have been posted on Wikileaks.
These documents do not provide any new or enlightening information. Moreover, the fact that the collection of leaked documents is composed of selective raw intelligence suggests that even the information that is contained therein is untrustworthy.
Assertions that the leak was orchestrated by the Pentagon, a conspiracy that was bound to surface, doesn’t hold much water. The episode has been embarrassing for the Pentagon and the White House alike, and does nothing to serve official US policy in the region.
But it’s not unheard of for an individual official or group of officials to contravene official policy in pursuit of counter goals. Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers are, of course, the obvious example. But more recent claims by Bradley Manning, a military intelligence analyst who bragged to another computer hacker that he had stolen over 260,000 classified documents and sent them to Wikileaks, suggest that technology combined with the fact that over 850,000 Americans have Top Secret security clearances has made such acts even more likely.
Similarly, it is no secret that individuals in Pakistan like former ISI chief Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul continue to support jihadi terrorist groups. These pro-jihadi elements also continue to aggressively attack the democratically-elected government in Pakistan in hopes of replacing it with a regime that is sympathetic to the Taliban.
Despite the volume of documents leaked, they represent only a small and relatively uninformative peek into what the US knows about terrorist groups in South Asia. Because the information is classified to protect the lives of Americans and Pakistanis in harms way, the American and Pakistani governments are not at liberty to merely release the rest of the information to set the record straight.
But they shouldn’t have to. As an obvious media stunt intended to embarrass both the American and Pakistani governments, this episode serves only to help anti-democratic jihadi groups. Ironically, however, by acting outside his official duties and contravening official government policy to leak these documents, the perpetrator actually demonstrates that rogue elements within the ISI are not following official Pakistani government policy when they offer any support to jihadi groups.