US should stop tipping off al-Qaida
By Peter Brookes Thursday, May 12, 2011, 11:43 am TWN
OK, the incredible details of the operation to silence Osama bin Laden are, indeed, irresistible — but the U.S. government's been saying way too much about them, tipping off al-Qaida and clueing in other bad guys.
You can't blame the press; its their job to get the story. But you can finger the White House and other government officials for not keeping enough of a zipped lip on some elements of the historic operation.
For instance, what about the early, broad — and repeated — disclosure of a "treasure trove" of information taken during the raid on Osama's compound in Pakistan?
Instead of broadcasting the intelligence grab, we might've waited a while — so we could more fully exploit some of the windfall before alerting al-Qaida operatives to take defensive measures.
Perhaps, based on the info on the computers and drives taken during the operation, we could've tapped or located some cell phones used by the al-Qaida network, hacked into some e-mail accounts, nabbed other bad guys and so on.
Yes, the terrorists no doubt took countermeasures to cover their tracks upon hearing about the events in Abbottabad — but they might not have done as clean a sweep if we hadn't bragged of stumbling upon a "mother lode" of information.
And, yes, it's fascinating to know how our spooks tracked the courier and the SEALs stormed the compound — but did we really have to coach the bad guys on this? That sort of grandstanding will likely prove counterproductive.
And what about the existence of a CIA safe house in Osama's neighborhood? Sure, the operation and folks who pulled it off undetected deserve a hearty "well done" for outstanding tradecraft and lots of guts, but the congratulations should come inside the confines of Langley — not in the press.
Now, the release of the "Osama vanity videos" is OK. Their real value lies in the less-than-favorable light they put on the now-dead al-Qaida leader, perhaps putting another nail in the coffin of the terrorist movement he founded.
But in war — and we're still in one, by the way — it's critical to protect intelligence sources, methods, (sometimes) triumphs and the wondrous ways of our intrepid special operators from actual and future enemies, who mine for such nuggets of privileged info.
If we blab too much about our sensitive national-security successes, we'll only make collecting the intelligence that keeps us safe harder to get as well as (potentially) putting our forces in harm's way.
We got Osama because al-Qaida & Co. didn't know we were on to him and how we might get him. That's a good thing. But even though this terror takedown is over, it won't be the last required. That's a real good reason to keep our bag of spook and special-ops tricks secret.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. Contact him at:firstname.lastname@example.org
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