Day By Day

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

This is Outrageous

For some time now it has been apparent that the American intelligence community has been incapable of keeping a secret, unless of course that secret is evidence of gross incompetence or nearly criminal behavior by intelligence personnel themselves. Everything else, no matter its importance to national security, is simply a tool to be implemented in support of various political, ideological or institutional agendas. Time and again vital information has been leaked in order to advance individual careers, agency agendas, or political causes. As a result not only the Bush administration but the nation's security as a whole has been severely damaged.

Now comes news of a particularly egregious leak that has once again imperiled us all.

The New York Sun reports:

WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda's Internet communications system has suddenly gone dark to American intelligence after the leak of Osama bin Laden's September 11 speech inadvertently disclosed the fact that we had penetrated the enemy's system.

The intelligence blunder started with what appeared at the time as an American intelligence victory, namely that the federal government had intercepted, a full four days before it was to be aired, a video of Osama bin Laden's first appearance in three years in a video address marking the sixth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. On the morning of September 7, the Web site of ABC News posted excerpts from the speech.

But the disclosure from ABC and later other news organizations tipped off Qaeda's internal security division that the organization's Internet communications system, known among American intelligence analysts as Obelisk, was compromised.

[T]he intelligence community watched in real time the shutdown of the Obelisk system. America's Obelisk watchers even saw the order to shut down the system delivered from Qaeda's internal security to a team of technical workers in Malaysia. That was the last internal message America's intelligence community saw. "We saw the whole thing shut down because of this leak," the official said. "We lost an important keyhole into the enemy."

This is either incompetence that verges on the criminal or it is treason. Either way the leakers must be traced, identified, and apprehended. I don't care who the culprit is, Chertoff, Cheney, or some malicious VIP. This kind of thing is intolerable. Heads must roll.


The WaPo is reporting that the leak came from an administration source. It should not be difficult to figure out who. The information, generated by a private company, was originally revealed to two officials. Within twenty minutes the intelligence services had the information. Within a matter of hours it was a matter of public record.

Everyone apparently knows who these high ranking officials are. They should by now be "formerly high-ranking officials" busy at home writing tell-all books and making appearances on cable TV. It makes no difference that the information was generated by a private rather than a public source -- this stuff should have been kept secret.

Heads must roll. But, unfortunately, they won't.



The responsible official has been identified. He was
Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Michael Leiter. He received the video and apparently passed the information on immediately to various intelligence organizations. The leak apparently came from within the intelligence community. A former spook explains:

[The private company] made a fateful mistake by trusting an intelligence community that leaks like a sieve and is always looking for plausible cover to protect its own collection efforts. By providing the video to the government, she gave the spooks a chance to claim victory, without affecting the sources and methods that likely yielded the tape. Readers will note that various government spokesmen never confirmed that Ms. Katz and her firm were the first to discover the video. It's a given that the intel community was already aware of the production, and looking for a way to publicize their "coup" without compromising its collection techniques.


[B]e careful entrusting proprietary information to intel and security bureaucrats, who will gladly use private data to cover their own work, even if it means compromising your sources in the process.

Read the whole thing here.

So it was most likely the intelligence bureaucrats after all, not the administration, who were the source of the leak. The WaPo again got it wrong in a way that would undermine the administration. No surprise there.