The Wikileaks organization has morphed from a relatively harmless aid to government whistleblowers into a threat to U.S. national security. It should be treated accordingly.
As with the July dump of Afghan war documents, the mainstream press has attempted to kindle story lines from the Iraq war data dump that imply scandal, particularly regarding civilian casualties. But once again, the information is underwhelming. There are no smoking guns except for some inconvenient truths about the actual existence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons-of-mass-destruction program and Iranian involvement in Iraq’s insurgency. For the most part, however, this type of information was well known to those who had been paying attention for the past seven years. Nevertheless, the new details about Iranian involvement in fanning the flames of insurgency in Iraq were alarming enough for the Islamic regime in Tehran to charge that Wikileaks is part of a U.S. government plot.
The 392,000 classified documents are an impressive quantity but lacking in quality. They are brief, tactical-level, on-the-scene reports that offer a soda-straw view of events. They are impressions from the field that may or may not have happened exactly as reported, with no means of verification. They aren’t highly classified reports on detailed investigations into events, or records of lengthy two-way communications or other documents that would lend necessary context and corroboration. The Wikileaks database may be a starting point for analysis of events in the Iraq war, but it renders only a superficial look at any given topic.
Most disheartening about the continuing Wikileaks saga is the inability of our government to mount a counterstrike against the sites dispensing classified information or - worse still - the ineffectiveness of whatever countermeasures the government is employing. The massive leaks certainly don’t inspire confidence in the Defense Department’s ability to protect classified information or defend the nation against cyber-attacks. Wikileaks is a foreign entity distributing illegally obtained classified information from servers outside the United States, specifically with the intention of disrupting the American war effort. The Justice Department should bring charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and everyone involved in leaking these documents. Once charges are filed, the government will have a greater variety of options for further action against the organization and its members.
The government also should be waging war on the Wikileaks Web presence. There are a variety of means whereby technicians could render inoperable the sites distributing the classified information. Wikileaks could respond by using alternate sites, but those could be targeted as soon as they came online. Wikileaks has a small staff and limited resources. Relentless attacks on the servers and sites dispensing this classified information would have a debilitating effect on the leakers’ morale and help widen the fissures that already have appeared in the group. This battle could offer some practical experience to American cyberwarriors who one day will face even greater threats from state-sponsored Web war.
The fact that anyone in the world can view Pentagon classified documents at will sends a signal of American impotence and inspires future cyberfoes. If Wikileaks wants to play this game, the very least our government can do is suit up and get out on the field.