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Monday
Nov292010

A Soldier's Take on Wikileaks

A guest post by Joe Roche

The renewed assault from Wikileaks is going to have a very negative impact on our military, I fear, endangering soldiers' lives and making our missions dysfunctional.

I have security clearances and worked with this information on deployments. Having access and disseminating it through the military to our front-line soldiers is very important. It allows us, when as soldiers going into dangerous places, to be aware of specific threats, weapons, people, streets, etc.

Before the attacks upon our country on September 11th, 2001, such dissemination of intelligence information didn't exist. The 9/11 Commission Report wrote how the notorious political "wall" between the various agencies in intelligence, law enforcement, and military prevented sharing of information that could have prevented the attacks and saved us from much agony and conflict over the past several years. One of the important changes after 9/11 was how intelligence has been disseminated to our soldiers.

iStock_SoldierSchool.jpg

I spent years before 9/11 following the rise of the terrorist threat, and grew so frustrated at our lack of ability to confront this that I went to the Middle East to volunteer with the Israelis. I sensed a calamity was coming, and wanted to start fighting in a war against terror even before our country got involved. This is why in my combat deployments with the US Army, I've been very gratified since 9/11 to see good intelligence available to our soldiers when we roll out on missions and risk our lives.

However, even before the Wikileaks sensation began this year, I saw many times intelligence officers in the Army withhold vital information. It wasn't that they were intentionally putting front line soldiers at further risk, leaving them to go into a dangerous place unknowingly. Rather, there is a culture among those who work with intelligence information to withhold it, to use it as a source of power, to view it as something elite, as something that needs to be told only on a "need to know" basis. Fine, except when that means we send soldiers into danger and they don't know it.

I'd like to be able to respond against the continuing Wikileaks fiasco by pointing out how wrong it is, such as was the case with the last release that wrongly impugned our military. Instead, now my fear is that the response to the reckless release is going to resurrect bureaucratic "walls" meant to protect classified information, but which will also deny front line soldiers critical intelligence.

That this entire leak has been the result of a bad soldier is a slap in the face like I can't tell you. It is such a painful betrayal. I know some people want to sympathize with him simply because he is a soldier. I can't because I know there are many more professional, patriotic, dedicated and good soldiers out there who are now likely going to have to risk their lives even more because of this.

It isn't this, though, that most frustrates me. Instead, I fear that intelligence information is going to again become so compartmentalized, withheld from front line soldiers, and watered down so as to make no sense, such that our military will again find itself blind to real threats out there.

In the mid-1990s, our military was passive in Bosnia in dealing with up to 5,000 Al Qaeda terrorists who fought there and filtered out to Europe, Canada, and elsewhere. Essentially, because our military was blind to the global terrorist threat lurking around them, we enabled by default the empowerment and dispersal of Osama bin Laden's terrorists via the Balkans. The price we have paid since 9/11 is largely due to this failure in Bosnia.

Now I fear that the reaction of the intelligence community among our agencies, as it impacts our soldiers, is going to resurrect "walls" against intelligence access, curtail dissemination, and to therefore blind our soldiers to the very real dangers around them in combat zones. The leak to Wikileaks is a crime, and should be prosecuted to the fullest. However, I just hope we don't take it too far bureaucratically and end up letting the leak deliver a blow against our military that not even foreign enemies have been able to inflict.

Please visit our Joe Roche page for links to more of Joe's writing. For a 2004 profile of Joe in Stars and Stripes, go here.

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