Thursday, June 7, 2012

Robert Gates on Operational Security

Robert Gates has held a number of high-level positions in the US government and academia (the most important, to my mind certainly, as President Emeritus of Texas A&M University). 

 Gates with Marines and Navy graduates of Texas A&M at Camp Fallujah

In the public mind in general, he is best known as a former Director of Central Intelligence (after a significant career in the CIA) and as Secretary of Defense under both Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama.  It was in this capacity that he oversaw, as a member of the National Security Council, the take-down of Usama bin Laden on 1 May 2011.

In providing a context for this latest contribution of Mr Gates, let us review the fact that there has been marked criticism of the Obama administration recently about a series of press leaks of national security information, that have the purported effect of enhancing Obama’s image as a Commander in Chief: 

  • That of Obama’s personal involvement in the decisions to use drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen (the breathless New York Times article cites some three dozen White House sources – a group of that magnitude hardly constitutes a leak), including the telling presence of David Axelrod, his campaign director, at the targeting meetings.
  • The successful operation that exposed another, upgraded attempt at an ‘underwear bomber’ attack, thereby also exposing our sources and methods, particularly the identity of the double agent involved, which included the participation of Saudi intelligence.  It became more sensitive when it was revealed that the agent was not our own, but was being run by the British, who were righteously livid over the revelation.
  • The recent details about the series of cyber-attacks against the Iranian nuclear weapons program, which include the previously-discovered Stuxnet and Duqu virus, and now the Flame.  There had been wide speculation of a foreign national investment in these highly sophisticated cyberwar programs, centering on the US and Israel, which has now been confirmed.  We can expect an increased likelihood of Iranian retaliation against US networks, and who can gainsay them, now that they can characterize it as a justifiable counter-attack?
  • The recent conviction of the Pakistani doctor who was instrumental in identifying the whereabouts of Usama bin Laden, to what is essentially life imprisonment (truer still if he is killed in prison), because the White House could not help but gleefully finger him in their backslapping victory dance, starting with John Brennan’s impromptu press conference the next day, which was stupefying in how much he got wrong – and this from the National Counter-Terrorism Advisor who was literally in the room watching the operation in real time.

As to Robert Gates, we already have a choice quote of his about this morass of political opportunism, referring to the media circus after the raid on bin Laden:

Frankly, a week ago Sunday, in the Situation Room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden.  That all fell apart on Monday – the next day.
The Situation Room during the bin Laden takedown (Gates, lower right)

Gates was very open about the increased danger to the operation’s troops and their families and the extra effort to protect them.  It is truly inexplicable at a polite level how this administration continues to trade the security of our people and sensitive methods, not to mention the lives of foreign allies, for political gain in this election season.  There are commentators of the last few days who demur that this could be deliberate, but I fail to see how such cavalier treatment of so much of this information at this time can be anything but.

This administration and its media lackeys should heed the advice of Secretary Gates in the just-revealed and published Confront and Conceal, by David Sanger (p 107):
By Wednesday of that week, Gates went to see [National Security Advisor Tom] Donilon, offering up a barbed assessment of how the White House had handled the aftermath of the raid.
‘I have a new strategic communications approach to recommend,’ Gates said in his trademark droll tones, according to an account later provided by his colleagues. What was that, Donilon asked? 
‘Shut the fuck up,’ the defense secretary said.
That is a quote, mind you, and thus skirts the edge of my sense of propriety in this web log (though as a Marine I am more than familiar and comfortable with the terminology when in context), but it has a certain cachet that is unmistakable in its meaning.  You will note that Gates was not uttering a general lament about the dangerous lack of a sense of security, along the lines of "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?"  He was speaking directly to Tom Donilon.  That should give you a sense of the source of the trouble. 

It is amazing to me that this administration needs such incandescently obvious advice, yet still fails to heed it.

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