Al-Qaeda, Wikileaks, and the War on Terror
Many news outlets have commented on the Wikileaks phenomenon, but none to my knowledge have commented on how the official classified State Department cables displayed on Wikileaks will aid al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups in their war against us, and how, in a bizarre twist of fate, these documents should now be considered a key American counterterrorism resource.
First it is important to put the quality of intelligence in perspective. Intelligence comes in various forms, such as conversations intercepted by human sources, communications intercepted through technical devices, via the reports of a spy, by the revelations of a defector, and on and on.
For all intelligence collectors, however, the Holy Grail is to recruit a source that can provide complete copies of official classified documents. I spent a career recruiting foreign spies who I pushed to provide me with this exact type of documentary intelligence, and this is precisely the kind of intelligence that PFC Bradley Manning provided to Julian Assange and Wikileaks.
To put the volume of intelligence displayed on Wikileaks in perspective, in the war on terror, every time we capture an al-Qaeda lap top computer that contains a couple hundred tactical documents, our officials declare that we’ve uncovered a “treasure trove” of intelligence that will severely impact al-Qaeda and be a boon to our understanding of how the organization operates.
Now compare this to the 260,000 official State Department cables revealing both tactical and strategic policies by documenting specific conversations between foreign leaders and senior American officials such as the president’s national security advisors and military leaders like General David Petraeus, and you get a perspective on this truly massive hemorrhage.
To put the damage into perspective, the leaked cables cover key American policies that span the entire world. If we take a sample, however, of just the cables that address the Middle East, we find an embassy assessment stating that we cannot win against al-Qaeda in Pakistan, the dangers posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, the cooperation between Shia Iran and Sunni terrorist groups, our plans, actions, and intentions to contain Iran, our Middle Eastern regional counterterrorism strategy, our plans to monitor al-Qaeda in Africa, the physical vulnerabilities of crucial energy nodes, and our fears that Pakistani nuclear material will fall into terrorist hands.
Having been an intelligence insider, I can assure you that our key competitors around the world such as Iran, Russia, North Korea, China, and the like, will have their ministries of foreign affairs and ministries of intelligence pore over and analyze these documents for years to come.
There is no doubt that al-Qaeda is already hard at work analyzing these cables, too, and, if it just limits its analysis to cables from the Muslim countries, it will be able to make its operations more secure and largely negate some of our communications interception techniques, it will uncover the physical vulnerabilities of strategic energy nodes, and it will obtain information that will provide content for its propaganda machine to discredit our government and our Middle Eastern partners.
I will guarantee that in the near future you will see some of these secret cables prominently referred to on al-Qaeda videos and displayed in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s new Inspire magazine, and they will be exploited by Salafi-Jihadi mosques and organizations throughout the world for some time to come.