About a month ago, I wrote a PJM article forecasting that al-Qaeda would use the classified State Department cables leaked to Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and I lamented the fact that, while al-Qaeda would use this information against us, our own counterterrorism officials are prohibited from accessing the same information in order to conduct a damage assessment. The article concluded saying:
While it is reprehensible that these cables have been leaked, it is equally true that this particular genie cannot be put back into the bottle. If our counterterrorism officials are the only ones left in the dark, they will be put at a dangerous disadvantage vis-a-vis al-Qaeda and its associates, and our country will be less safe as a result.
Al-Qaeda’s use of this material has now become fact.
On page 45 in the fourth issue of Inspire magazine — al Qaeda’s “official” magazine — in a section titled “Advice for Those Who Want to Help Al Malahem Media,” al-Qaeda advises Muslims who want to assist it to send “anything useful from Wikileaks.”
For those who might discount the usefulness of this request based on a belief that jihadi wannabes cannot get such information to al-Qaeda, you’d be wrong.
Unfortunately, since the first issue of Inspire magazine, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has provided an encryption key that enables Muslim fellow-travelers to securely send data to it. Encryption experts say that the system, if used as AQAP recommends, is operationally secure.
The story, however, does not stop with al-Qaeda’s active solicitation of Wikileaks material. On February 14, 2011, in a 6-minute video titled “A Message to the Members of the Media,” al-Qaeda commander Anwar al-Awlaki used Wikileaks in his propaganda narrative.
Making points that will undoubtedly be echoed in radical mosques and Islamic centers around the world, al-Awlaki attempts to discredit the American government by charging:
…the war against the publication of truth [goes on], and, what is more, the U.S. is fighting to shut down websites like WikiLeaks, just because it reported facts about the American war in Iraq and about the conversations of American diplomats with their agents worldwide….[The U.S.] has leveled a similar accusation at the owner of WikiLeaks, in order to keep [his site]sy and neutralize its work in disseminating the domestic secrets of the musty American [White] House.
These overt statements clearly reveal how al-Qaeda will use Wikileaks data in its propaganda war against us, but they do not reveal what counterintelligence information al-Qaeda will be able to glean from these documents, such as intelligence regarding the technical operations we use to penetrate it, or intelligence regarding the vulnerability of specific targets around the world.
Because this type of information will be used to facilitate its clandestine operations, al-Qaeda will not publicly reveal it.
Only a carefully conducted damage assessment of the leaked material, done by our counterterrorism and counterintelligence analysts, can alert us to what al-Qaeda can learn from these documents. Armed with this knowledge, we can then make the necessary changes to our tradecraft, or bolster the weaknesses of key targets exposed by the material.
Of course, such an assessment cannot and will not be accomplished as long as the government declares this material off limits to the very officials who need it most.
On February 3, 2011, the Senate Homeland Security Committee released its findings on the Ft. Hood massacre perpetrated by Major Nidal Hasan. One of its key findings was that the FBI did not employ its intelligence analysts in the case. The committee’s belief was that if the analysts had been included, the massacre might well have been prevented.
In this instance, we are not only intentionally cutting our analysts out of the loop, but depriving them on pain of punishment of key information that is already assisting the enemy.