The Washington Post has a front-page story about a "ring" of supposedly secret drone bases, apparently oblivious to the fact that if they are a featured story in the paper, they are hardly all that secret anymore. These bases, a critical part of our worldwide counterterrorism efforts, have been exposed by our enemy Wikileaks, as part of its release of stolen diplomatic cables.
As I've pointed out before, Wikileaks has already done far more damage to the U.S. than most terrorists can dream of, and this is just the latest example. Al Qaeda doesn't need intelligence operatives in the U.S. conducting espionage to uncover details about U.S. counterterrorism efforts. It has Wikileaks to do it for them. The exposure of these secrets might make for interesting reading, but that damage to U.S. interests is real and significant. The Post covers the situation with Seychelles.
The government of Seychelles agreed to host U.S. drones and to keep their counterterrorism mission secret, using a cover story that they were there for anti-piracy operations. The U.S. told Seychelles that the drones would be unarmed.
During a meeting with Seychelles President James Michel on Sept. 18, 2009, American diplomats said the U.S. government “would seek discrete [sic], specific discussions . . . to gain approval” to arm the Reapers “should the desire to do so ever arise,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting. Michel concurred, but asked U.S. officials to approach him exclusively for permission “and not anyone else” in his government ... Michel’s chief deputy told a U.S. diplomat on a separate occasion that the Seychelles president “was not philosophically against” arming the drones, according to another cable. But the deputy urged the Americans “to be extremely careful in raising the issue with anyone in the Government outside of the President. Such a request would be ‘politically extremely sensitive’ and would have to be handled with ‘the utmost discreet care.’ ”Here you see that the U.S. made a secret agreement with the president to cut out the rest of his government. In order to conduct these type of operations we need to make agreements with various countries that involve these sorts of back-door dealings, because of domestic political consideration in the states hosting our drones. How much harder will it be to obtain bases now that everyone knows that the U.S. is unable to keep even sensitive diplomatic correspondence secret, and unwilling to take necessary actions to destroy a hostile organization that is stealing and publishing those secrets? If you were the president of some other nation approached by the U.S., would you make a similar agreement, knowing that the U.S. can't keep secrets?