COLUMN | FOURTH ESTATE
The Real Scandal Behind the Pentagon Leaks
Why can’t the government keep track of its secrets?
The paradox of the national security machine is that in order for the secrets it gathers to be of any practical use, they must be shared widely enough to be put to work. It’s vital for hundreds if not thousands of policymakers and military officials to know, for example, the burn rate on Ukrainian and Russian artillery shells and anti-aircraft missiles. Or the content of the Russian government’s plans. Or what the Wagner Group is up to. But the secrets lose their fizz the minute the Russians know what the American forces know. Worse than that, the Russians can use the spilled secrets to determine how the secrets got spilled in the first place, blinding future attempts by the American apparatus.
Mark Esper, others question ‘trust’ amid classified leak
Finding a balance between holding secrets too tightly and handling them like easily lost pocket change would make a good thesis topic for George Smiley. Judging the debts and assets of the intelligence breach can’t be fully ascertained without access to additional secrets about how the Russians and others are responding.
The Pentagon has gone on record saying that the leaks “could lead to people losing their lives,” which is the standard official comment when secrets leak and the implied reason flacks like Kirby don’t want the press to report on them. These claims of “lost lives” are always contested, as they were when the Wikileaks cables were unspooled in 2010, and when Edward Snowden shared top-secret documents in 2013, with the admonitions often being downgraded from “lives lost” to “caused harm.”
That said, it’s incontrovertible during wartime that unique “information” that’s freed up can be used by either side to launch deadly attacks. But in this case, some of the “secrets,” such as both Ukraine and Russia running short on munitions, have been previously reported in the press.
Likewise, the Russians have known since the dawn of the Ukraine war that our spies were reading their mail because the Biden administration made it a tool of diplomacy to inform the world that we had learned Russia’s “secret” military plans. It’s hard at this point to see how the revelations about Egypt, Turkey, the Wagner Group and the attempted shoot-down of a British spy plane will directly lead to the loss of life. But I suppose John Kirby will take a stab at it when he brushes the omelet off his face.