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America’s Classified Leak Problem

Posted on Friday, April 14, 2023
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by Daniel Berman
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AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Berman

The recent leak of hundreds of classified documents detailing information about the war in Ukraine reveal little that was not already speculated about within the public domain, but nonetheless can be used to undermine support for Ukraine and turn America’s allies against the country. The leaks therefore represent a gift to America’s adversaries – one delivered on a platter for the third time in 13 years by a Democrat administration that is unable to prevent leaks by low-level staff.

Karl Marx said that events in history repeat twice: first as tragedy then as farce. Over a decade ago, Bradley Manning, an intelligence officer assigned to the headquarters of David Petraeus, then leader of U.S. forces in Iraq, provided Wikileaks with tens of thousands of documents, including diplomatic cables in which U.S. officials discussed conversations with foreign leaders.

The result was enormous damage not just to U.S. operations, but a chilling effect on the willingness of allies to share information and of foreign figures to speak with Americans out of fear the contents of their conversations might leak.

Then came the Edward Snowden leaks 10 years ago. Then, a little over two months ago, classified materials relating to the military situation in Ukraine leaked on a videogame message board as part of an online argument.

Manning and Snowden, for all their delusions of grandeur, at least maintained a pretense of acting on a higher principle. These most recent documents were apparently released to win an online argument.

The pointless nature of their disclosure was only exceeded by the farcical process of their subsequent proliferation as Russian agents rushed to distribute them, after taking care to alter the numbers contained within to lower Russian casualties to the implausible levels consistent with the Russian Ministry of Defense’s figures.

It is widely believed that U.S. intelligence agencies have engaged in edits of their own, with the result that multiple “versions” of the leaked documents exist, all of which contain different numbers for Russian and Ukrainian losses, reserves, ammunition, and other resources.

The one thing the leak was intended to do, settle online arguments between rival groups of military nerds, is the only thing it has failed to accomplish.

Then there is the content itself. Attention in the media has focused on two elements of the leaks.

The first group of documents are general intelligence briefings, which are collections of rumor and speculation, some more well-founded than others. These range from speculation that Russian generals may be conspiring to lose the war behind the back of a cancer-ridden Putin to suggestions that the Mossad played a role in orchestrating protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The first rumor seems likely to be dismissed, but the latter is almost certain to exacerbate Israel’s domestic crisis even if it is no better-founded than the rumors about Putin’s health. It lines up with what factions in a highly-polarized Israeli political space already suspect to be true.

The same is true of references to U.S. espionage against Japan and South Korea contained in the leaked documents. This can hardly be news to anyone familiar with the nature of signals intelligence or who has read about efforts to monitor Merkel’s communications in Snowden’s leaks.

The revelations will nevertheless put the United States in the wrong, making it hard for Washington to make demands of its Asian allies at a time when China’s rise poses an imminent threat, while making it equally hard to resist demands they might make on trade.

The second group of leaks deal more specifically with the military situation in Ukraine. Coverage has focused on the perceived pessimism of U.S. assessments of Ukraine’s position in many of the leaked documents, including criticism of the decision to try and hold the city of Bakhmut, as well as chronic shortages of ammunition.

These should be read with a grain of salt. Foreign military observers have been professional critics for centuries, operating from the starting point that if they were in charge, or the locals just did everything they said, things would go much better.

In turn, these reports often carry the conviction that everything that has gone wrong is because the locals ignored their advice. U.S. General Phillip Sheridan managed to find plenty of things to disparage about the Prussian Army which crushed France in a matter of weeks in 1870, and it is hardly surprising U.S. officers take issue with Ukrainian decisions today.

Criticism of the decision to defend Bakhmut is a prime example of this. Leaked documents show U.S. observers echoing in private the public worries that the city was operationally surrounded back in February and that the Ukrainian army risked destruction if it did not withdraw. Nearly two months later, the city is still in Ukrainian hands and the Russian offensive appears to be bogged down.

Concerns about the speed with which Ukraine consumes ammunition have been appearing for over a year. It would be highly suspicious if foreign observers did not accuse the army of wasting resources. U.S. military attaches were accusing South Vietnam of profligately wasting American ammunition in 1975 even as South Vietnamese units had long since run out.

Other documents suggesting that, at current rates, Ukraine’s air defenses would be degraded by May, ignored that those rates were not sustained by Russia, which ran out of air assets to maintain its bombardment campaign months ago.

Ukraine nonetheless has grounds for anger, and fear for that matter. As with the leaks regarding global events, the risk is not that the information itself is revealing things which were not already suspected, but that the claims will be used to advance the preexisting agendas of those who argue that U.S. stockpiles cannot sustain support for Ukraine, the war cannot be won, and Ukraine should make a compromise peace before it is too late.

A narrative has picked up steam in U.S. domestic politics where the objection to aid to Ukraine is not cost, but rather that the U.S. lacks the production capacity to provide Ukraine with weapons. Leaked reports that Ukrainians are wasting ammunition will be used to suggest that the U.S. is incapable of meeting Ukraine’s needs and therefore should not try. Skepticism about Ukrainian gains in the leaks will be used to justify limiting support for Ukraine’s offensive.

While the greatest impacts will be political, there are also military implications. It is hard to measure these. Both Ukrainian and U.S. officials have suggested Ukraine may be forced to scrap or alter plans for the spring offensive, the latter while simultaneously playing down the importance of the leaks. This may well reflect reality, but it might be disinformation itself. By suggesting that it might keep existing plans, alter them, or scrap them entirely in favor of something else, Kyiv keeps Moscow guessing and reduces the value of the leaks.

What cannot be mitigated quite so easily is the damage to the credibility of the United States as a partner. If the United States cannot keep secrets safe, then it is dangerous to share anything with Washington which you do not wish to be publicly available.

Ukraine came under pressure last fall to share details of its military planning with the Pentagon as a condition of aid, only to see those materials leak. It cannot escape the notice of many foreign allies that despite Joe Biden’s claim that he would restore trust in America, the three greatest leaks of confidential material occurred under either Biden or his former boss, Barack Obama (Manning 2010, Snowden 2013).

Angry statements of outrage are of little value if the perpetrators cannot be found, as Chief Justice John Roberts learned when it came to the leak of the Dobbs decision. The Pentagon’s official line is that this leak may cost lives, but they cannot identify who the leaker was, nor do they even know the full contents of what may have leaked. Can anyone imagine the Mossad sharing intelligence with Washington after the U.S. allowed the leak of speculation they were plotting a coup? What Mossad agent would dare risk their name showing up in a U.S. file, when the next file leaked might include speculation of treason? It would be a career-ender.

The leaks betray a lack of seriousness about the basic functions of the Pentagon and intelligence agencies. The Biden administration seems determined to pursue “equity” initiatives even to the exclusion of competence. Even if those efforts are unrelated, the time and resources focused on irrelevant political staffing detract from efforts to ensure the basic security of U.S. intelligence.

The continued public focus by the administration is now no longer merely annoying conservative Americans. It is creating an impression among foreign partners, whether in Kyiv or Seoul that the U.S. thinks the security of their secrets is less important than domestic virtue signaling. That is something America cannot afford.

Daniel Berman is a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He also writes as Daniel Roman.

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Lieutenant Beale
Lieutenant Beale
1 year ago

Still won’t get a job, eh?
What’s the matter Troll of Many Names?
You no like workie?

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
1 year ago

Secret Clearance Reforms:

Vet Hirees
Change policies
Change procedures
Examine past issues: Pollard etc from 80s

PaulE
PaulE
1 year ago

The story of the these leaked documents concerning Ukraine highlights a flaw that occurred in the background check of the 21 year old serviceman by the FBI tasked with vetting the individual before granting him the second highest security clearance possible. Which was a prerequisite necessary for him to do his intended job.

A typical FBI background check can take anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months, depending on the level of security clearance being considered for the individual. I should know, as I held security clearances in the past as part of one of my job functions. So the fault, which is what most people will focus on when reading about this story, lies squarely with the FBI officials who clearly didn’t look deep enough into this 21 year old’s past social media posts.

As for how the rest of the world views the United States, the Biden administration had destroyed our credibility and reputation around the world long before this kid decided to steal classified records to impress his friends. So Daniel Berman is more than a little late when it comes to worrying about how other nations view us. That ship sailed long ago.

CoNMTX
CoNMTX
1 year ago

I have lost interest in government secrecy since Joe and Hunter hand deliver anything the Chinese want anyway. A group of cub scouts could probably hack the government computers and if that didn’t work just ask for what you want. I picture a window, like at the bank, where you just walk up and give someone the number of the secret document you want. Say, maybe, $5.00 a page.

Elton Yancey
Elton Yancey
1 year ago

The government keeps too many secrets. Lets open up more and shine a light on their lies and misinformation and probably treason. We don’t even know who really killed Kennedy.

Skip Gimbrone
Skip Gimbrone
1 year ago

Why isn’t any of the media(except Tucker Carlson) reporting about what the leaked documents contained. They contradict the lies the talking heads have been feeding the American people about the war in Ukraine. We have United States troops fighting in Ukraine against Russia. So we are fighting a war with Russia without congressional approval.

gina
gina
1 year ago

Let the kid go and put Hunter and Pedo Peter in Gitmo instead. Leakers revealing two of the most corrupt “administrations” in history are my heroes.

Jeri
Jeri
1 year ago

I would like to see the incompetent SOB that decided to give a child of 21 top secret clearance arrested and charged, perhaps with treason.

Morbious
Morbious
1 year ago

The leaking of classified military information will continue and increase as long as the punishments for it are light. We are rapidly moving to a place where dem friendly crimes are not treated as crimes but conservatives are dealt with severely.

Ann S
Ann S
1 year ago

Criminal behavior is supported by the Brandon administration. These papers were leaked for months and nobody noticed. Or did they? They had a chance before Russia invaded the Ukraine to settle an accord. Only Brandon and Johnson of the UK said no. This leak was deliberate and a 21 year young man will pay the price. Brandon is not worried about the leak, in his world all is well. No inflation, no border problems, electric cars and the environment is saved.

Bob L.
Bob L.
1 year ago

I’ve been saying for years that our government security, intel, documents, etc. has been as full of holes as an onion sack. Today, with so much personal data of all kinds kept in computer storage by so many entities, we have no personal security either. Look how many and how often secure data bases get hacked. In the day of only paper documents, things were much more secure.

Golfhoncho
Golfhoncho
1 year ago

Firstly, Ukraine is not a democracy; it’s a dictatorship. Secondly, Ukraine represents no vital national interest to the USA. Currently, it’s a massive drain on our strategic assets – materials and monies; at a time when things are heating up on the world stage – in addition to Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, etc. Finally, Ukraine is not a member of NATO. As such, it’s past time for a negotiated settlement of the Russia-Ukrainian conflict.

Mike S
Mike S
1 year ago

To those in a position of responsibility to decide the fate of Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira from a Vietnam-era veteran who didn’t run to Canada when his country called for men to step up to serve.
The threat of a worldwide conflict where bloodshed could mirror the loss of life during WWII and possibly exceed it is looming with every passing day. There is only one word that adequately describes the crime committed with the release of confidential information that increases that possibility. That word is treason. Given how we are foolishly close to WWIII, despite the horrors of war, after a court-martial where he is found guilty, there is only one sentence that is appropriate for the crime committed. A sentence of death is extremely warranted for this betrayal. He should be given the choice of either a firing squad or hanging. No other possibility should be considered. The memories of those countless millions of servicemen and women who have lost their lives in defense of this country since its birth demand it!

Jerry
Jerry
1 year ago

Looks like the US military has gotten very sloppy in securing classified information. 27 years ago when I was an E-6 with a top secret clearance in the US Navy I could never have done this. My access to classified information was very limited and on a need to know basis.

anna hubert
anna hubert
1 year ago

When was the last time that anyone in a key position has been held responsible for anything It is always someone less important fault and excuses are endless no none is fired and the usual blather follows we must do better we will make sure etc.

Viking 8674
Viking 8674
1 year ago

The Biden Administration is uncapable of doing anything close to competent in regard to the simplest functions of government. The President shows sever signs of dementia and cognitive decline. The intelligence community is more focused on maligning and eliminating any political foes to the Democrats than doing the real job of intelligence. Much less keeping our national secrets safe. This situation is going to continue to deteriorate unless something is done, and quickly, to remedy the sorry state of our Federal Government.

ks106
ks106
1 year ago

I simply don’t understand why more people are not outraged that we have Americans on the front lines engaging in combat with Russian soldiers. The extent of the lies, betrayal and blatant disregard for American couldn’t be more in your face. This exceeds the lies we were fed about Vietnam, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Iran Contra, Afghanistan, NSA Spying and so many others. The entrenched DC bureaucrats and Pentagon ineptitude and corruption in the real treason. The Ukrainian war false narrative is in place to funnel billions of dollars into the greedy hands of the warmongers. This is and always has been a regional conflict. I don’t buy the propaganda of Ukraine winning the war, protecting democracy or preventing Russia from invading Poland. NATO and the US hands are dirty in bringing this conflict to this point. While they shove this woke BS in our faces at home the real story is how close we are to a nuclear holocaust. Think the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima multiplied by 500 times. That’s one bomb and Russia has an equivalent arsenal to the US. And the buffoons at the Pentagon say we can win a nuclear war. Do you really trust a Milley, military genius, who was on a book tour when we withdrew from Afghanistan. And said, “no one could have known”. What a confidence builder that is. Where is the diplomacy at work to bring this to an end? Oh, its Biden planting a freaking tree in Ireland, while Hunter is making backroom deals for the family.
This young guardsman is a whistle blower. The documents he leaked shows why millions of Americans have been placed in harms way by a corrupt Administration that has no regard for our country, its citizens and wants to destroy us.
That is my opinion.

Philip Hammersley
Philip Hammersley
1 year ago

When a “leak” helps the DIMMs, the MSM (“sewer rats”) are all FOR it. When a “leak” exposes a DIMM, all of a sudden it’s the worst thing on Earth and the leaker should be locked up!

Oldrealist
Oldrealist
1 year ago

Daniel Berman gives us the the best balanced view of these documents I’ve read so far.

The Air National Guard Airman arrested in connection with the leaks is maybe not a spy, but a foolish young guy (21) trying to impress fellow gamers on line.

It is no surprise that Russians, the US and others would quickly see an opportunity to edit and photoshop the documents for disinformation purposes.

It may even be that doctored versions of documents were allowed to pass through his hands for disinformation purposes. If so, the shock expressed over the leaks before identifying the leaker serves to validate false information.

Given the volume of the documents, and the young guy’s rank, plus my former enlisted service, very long ago, in the army’s signals intelligence branch, the classified material appears to be not that sensitive, which is consistent with his rank.

But, spies are all smoke and mirrors and shadows. I, along with most everyone else could be seeing this completely wrong.

John Bass
John Bass
1 year ago

How can the current Democrat administration expect it’s low-level staff to keep secrets when their time is spent learning the proper pronoun and none on security? In their wokeness they probably figured it was ok because at the time they self-identified as a secret agent. It doesn’t help any when past Democrats in higher positions of power than a so called low-level staffer leaked information, and nothing was ever done about it…just ask Hillary or Bill.

What happened to Patriotism?

Gary
Gary
1 year ago

I believe the leaks of secrets by the young officer are because there is a lack of patritotism and a lack of love of country . Today’s kids are all be educated by DEMOCRATs . And the Democrats are filling their heads with mush . Bring back the three “Rs” , and teach the kids what their parents want taught , not what the teacher’s union wants .

Charles Kyle Brown
Charles Kyle Brown
1 year ago

When is General Milley going to be relieved of duty? He has lost control of the services below him! Second is when is Joe Bidon going to be charged with espionage? Oh, wait my error, I’m only part of “We the People” not the group “We the ELECTED People!”

Casey C Matt
Casey C Matt
1 year ago

Anyone believing these “stolen documents” is a legit story is a fool. Anyone but me curious as to how the news of the “capture” of the thief was announced simultaneously by both a prominent US and UK lamestream media outlet? Ever wonder why the lack of Russian air bombardment has only recently begun in coordination with the degrading of Ukraine air defenses and not some “lack of hardware” on the part of Russia?
But nevermind, go ahead and spout “Putin Bad” while watching actual Nazis in Ukraine burn churches and jail priests. And most importantly keep supporting our awesome political leader war whores who refuse to vote for an audit of where the 140 Billion plus we have sent is actually going.

Jayel
Jayel
1 year ago

Make sure we have a firing squad ready for as many are involved in this prank. They could each hold a “participation trophy” in front of them. There will be that many less of Democraps to vote several times.

tlanger
tlanger
1 year ago

Maybe he should of kept the info in boxes behind hid Corvette??? By the way, is that an electric Corvette? What a bunch of losers.

Winston Hooker Sr.
Winston Hooker Sr.
1 year ago

no other nation will share national security secrets with the USA again. methods and contact s weee compromised and covert agents identities revealed. This MUST stop! We need a new law to cover this. Steal or copy national secrets: life in super max prison with no possibility of parole. passing on or publishing national security secrets punished by firing squad within 2 weeks of capture; parents, siblings and children of convicted traitors would be automatically prohibited from all federal employment for 10 years for guilt by association. Nations that refuse to extradition of indicted traitors would be heavily sanctioned,

David Millikan
David Millikan
1 year ago

Excellent article.
There is NO BORDER SECURITY so why would there be any NATIONAL SECURITY (Communist China SPY Ballon’s, etc.) with DICTATOR Beijing biden and Communist harris?
There is ZERO leadership.
The 2 LOSERS in the White House are DEFINITELY NOT QUALIFIED in any way shape or form as being called leaders.
Let alone, as being called president and vice president when they are in there ILLEGALLY and UNCONSTITUTIONALLY and the whole world knows it.

johnh
johnh
1 year ago

Famous Quote WWII “LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS” has been forgotten by the generations in charge of this nation today. Secret documents at home of Donald Trump, and found at places of Joe Biden, and now this leak. Also, what ever happened to leak of decision out of Supreme Court. I would hope we have a system that is at least as tough as checking a book out of a library.

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