In an effort to appear strong on terrorism, our government has adopted a strategy of trumpeting every single bit of news they come across. Every arrest. Every suspected plot, no matter how vague. I guess the idea is to brag about everything to show how successful our “War on Terror” is.
I have a few problems with this approach. First and foremost, it looks as if we’re actually in the habit of shooting off our mouths, even when we probably ought to keep it to ourselves. Consider the recent announcement by the CIA that we had infiltrated Al Qaeda’s network. That seems like something that we might not want to broadcast. Don’t you think that makes Al Qaeda more likely to aggressively root out any potential moles?
Or how about the fiasco with Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, the computer geek they caught in Pakistan. By identifying him, we exposed the identity of a key source whose contacts with Al Qaeda honchos had yet to be fully exploited. This was seen as a huge intelligence blunder by many observers. According to Juan Cole, a Professor of History at the University of Michigan (who also happens to be a specialist on the Middle East):
The outing of Khan, probably the most important asset the U.S. has ever had inside al-Qaeda, is a huge disaster and a setback to attempts to finish off the top leadership of al-Qaeda
Hmm. Not so good.
This pattern of talking too damn much actually goes all the way back to 9/11. On the day of the attacks, Senator Orrin Hatch leaked important information from intercepted Al Qaeda satellite phone conversations. Shortly after, Al Qaeda abandoned that form of communication completely, much to the dismay of intelligence professionals.
Aside from tipping our hands about sensitive intelligence, there’s also another major problem. It’s the constant stream of non-specific, yet terribly frightening rumors of planned attacks. Frankly, I don’t see the value of these “warnings.” Oddly enough, it reminds me of a line from the movie Men in Black. In that film, Will Smith’s character, after learning of an alien plot to destroy Earth, decides that discretion is no longer important. Tommy Lee Jones plays his older, wiser partner who brings him back to his senses. He says:
There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Korilian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out life on this miserable planet. The only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they do not know about it.
Seems like Agent K could teach our folks a thing or two about keeping things under their hats.