Sunday, August 30, 2009

A New War Against Radical Islam - Part I

Following up on my last post, here is my first proposal.

The first thing we need to do is fundamental for having an intelligence service that can serve as a truly effective weapon against our enemies abroad. The U.S. needs a far greater emphasis on secrecy regarding intelligence operations. Many complained about too much secrecy during the Bush administration, which in my view is exactly backward. There wasn't too much secrecy, there was far too little. All of the details we know about CIA operations: the "secret" prisons, interrogation techniques, use of rendition, information about the drone assassination program, operators violating internal rules, and many other things -- all should have been kept secret. Many of our problems could have been avoided if we had simply done a better job of keeping the secret operations of a secret intelligence agency secret.

Some will immediately counter by making one of two arguments. The first is that a high level of secrecy is unrealistic. In an open society, with a free press, and the number of people involved in large intelligence operations, some information is bound to leak. This is true. Total secrecy is not possible, but leaks can and should be minimized. Even if true information does leak, the government should never confirm it, and instead refrain from commenting, leaving it unclear whether a leak is true or merely rumor.

The second argument against secrecy is based primarily on a well-founded distrust of government. If the government is allowed to do things in secret, it will do abusive things, therefore minimal secrecy is to be preferred. The problem with this argument is that many intelligence operations require secrecy to be effective -- it's just their nature. Secrecy of this type is a necessary evil. That doesn't mean it has to be totally secret. CIA operations are and should be monitored by oversight, particularly through bipartisan Congressional committees. But information should not be released to the public.

If there isn't one already, an internal CIA unit should be created to suppress leaks. Harsh criminal penalties should be put into place for anyone, including members of Congress and their staffers, who reveals classified intelligence information to the public. (This does not include the press, just those leaking the information. It would be nice if the press were more responsible, but an irresponsible press that reports anything is one of the prices of freedom). The only people who should be informed about secret operations are the appropriate oversight committees.

Any leak of information that does occur should be met with the following refrain: we do not comment on classified intelligence matters. This should be repeated religiously by all involved government officials until it is clear that they mean it -- there will be no comment on classified intelligence leaks. Any and all attempts to break secrecy, by crusading federal judges, by individual members of Congress, by terrorist rights supporters such as the ACLU, or by anyone else, should be resisted on grounds of national security and fought all the way to the Supreme Court.

Reestablishing a veil of secrecy around the CIA and its operations would probably do more than any other single action to magnify the power and impact of our intelligence efforts abroad. Although it would take some time until they saw we were serious, another obvious benefit would be that foreign intelligence agencies would again be able to cooperate with the U.S., without the same risk of exposure. At the moment, other intelligence agencies would be insane to cooperate with the U.S. on anything remotely controversial.


  1. Nice start. I was appalled at Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's breach of CIA-Congress relationship earlier this year. She has yet to apologize still. To think she is two heart beats from the presidency is a sad thought. I also find it disheartening that many CIA officials are being vilified by the government, media, and public they protect, while Pelosi sits there as powerful as ever. How do you even become a Congressman or woman without having a deep respect for US national security and respect for those who fight to keep it so?

  2. Thanks. Yes, Pelosi is much worse than Obama in that regard.