US Officials Leak Info About ISIS Raid More Sensitive Than Anything Snowden Ever Leaked

from the but-no-one-says-anything dept

Over the weekend, the US government announced that special forces soldiers entered Syria to conduct a raid that killed an alleged leader of ISIS, Abu Sayyaf. In the process, anonymous US officials leaked classified information to the New York Times that's much more sensitive than anything Edward Snowden ever revealed, and it serves as a prime example of the government's hypocrisy when it comes to disclosures of secret information.

Here's how the New York Times described how the US conducted this "successful" raid:

The raid came after weeks of surveillance of Abu Sayyaf, using information gleaned from a small but growing network of informants the C.I.A. and the Pentagon have painstakingly developed in Syria, as well as satellite imagery, drone reconnaissance and electronic eavesdropping, American officials said. The White House rejected initial reports from the region that attributed the raid to the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Read that carefully and pretend it was Snowden who leaked this information, instead of nameless Pentagon spokesmen. US officials would be screaming from the rooftops that he leaked extremely timely and sensitive intelligence (it was literally only hours old), that he will cause specific terrorists to change their communications behavior, and most importantly, he put the lives of informants at risk. (Note: none of Snowden's leaks did any of these things.)

Yet despite the fact that the ISIS raid was discussed on all of the Sunday shows this week, no one brought up anything about this leak. Contrast that with Snowden's revelations, where government officials will use any situation to say the most outlandish things possible in an attempt to smear his whistleblowing—regardless of their basis in reality. Take former CIA deputy director and torture advocate Mike Morrell, for example, who is currently on a book promotion tour and has been preposterously suggesting that Snowden's leaks somehow led to the rise of ISIS.

For the sake of hypothetical argument, let's take Morrell's claims at face value. Let's put aside the fact that, despite their "sky is falling" rhetoric, the US government has consistently refused to release specific information showing that terrorists have "changed their behavior" due to the Snowden leaks, and that terrorists were sophisticated users of encryption for more than a decade before anyone heard Snowden's name. Let's also ignore that the US government has been caught blatantly exaggerating how leaks have "damaged" national security in the past, and that officials have already admitted their nightmare scenarios in this case have not actually come to pass.

Here is what Morrell told NPR when asked about Edward Snowden and the damage he thinks he caused to national security:

So I can't get into specifics, but I'll tell you that there was a program that he disclosed that was vital to the United States' ability to see what terrorists are doing. And they all changed their communication habits because of that disclosure - al-Qaida in Pakistan, al-Qaida in Yemen and al-Qaida in Iraq, which morphed into ISIS. So there is no doubt in my mind that that change in behavior on the part of al-Qaida in Iraq and ISIS contributed to ISIS's rise.

And here's what he said on 60 Minutes the same week:

"What Edward Snowden did has put Americans at greater risk because terrorists learn from leaks and they will be more careful, and we will not get the intelligence we would have gotten otherwise."

Every single thing Morrell said applies to what US officials leaked this weekend, if not more so. But since the leak about the ISIS raid was meant to glorify the Obama administration, instead of embarrassing it or exposing wrongdoing, everyone in the US government will pretend like it never happened.

Either leaks exposing the "sources and methods" of surveillance are damaging to national security or they are not. Administration officials can't have it both ways.

Republished from the Freedom of the Press Foundation


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2015 @ 2:10pm

    You're assuming any of this "leak" is actually true and not just a bunch of misleading bullshit like the Osama bin Laden story.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2015 @ 2:18pm

    Normally, I might agree with you, but these may have been strategic leaks authorized by people allowed to "leak" this information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Edward Teach, 18 May 2015 @ 5:12pm

      Re:

      people allowed to "leak" this information

      How can I tell, without asking people who certainly will ignore my question?

      Seriously, how can we tell? Big Cheeses have called on Edward Snowden to surrender and face a fair trial. Are these leakers being encouraged to surrender and face a fair trial? I mean, what's fair is fair, right? No man above the law, sacred principle of justice and the American Way.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2015 @ 8:26am

      Re:

      But then we are still caught up in the "who watches the watcher?".

      Furthermore, the existance of authorised leaks would point to a pandoras box of defining when a leak is acceptable to authorise and when it isn't.

      - Accepting leaks unconditionally with no independent oversight would lead to pure propaganda down the line.
      - Setting up actual ethical rules for leaks would require an independent transparent oversight to garner any kind of legitimacy. I cannot see such a thing existing.
      - Making an unbiased system would require a system that takes good and bad from the employees into consideration and objectively release good as well as bad. An employee has to feel that his/her job isn't on the line when they speak out internally.

      The amounts and kinds of unauthorized leaks we have seen, would suggest a biased and/or illegitimate authorization system for leaks if such exists. Thus strategic leaks would be as problematic, if not more so, as unauthorized leaks. At least unauthorized leaks are problem-oriented and thus presenting options for improvement.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2015 @ 2:23pm

    There are no such things as good and bad leaks

    Only authorized and unauthorized.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 18 May 2015 @ 2:56pm

      Re: There are no such things as good and bad leaks

      Yes there are. See my post below. :-)

      Bad leaks make the public aware that the government is becoming a police state and building the apparatus to do so.

      Good leaks merely compromise capabilities and endanger the lives of operatives while not revealing that the government is becoming a police state.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 18 May 2015 @ 2:24pm

    But of course administration officials can have it both ways.

    You see, if an unofficial leak comes from an administration official, then it's officially OK.

    If an official leak comes from an non-administration official, then it's officially NOT OK.

    If an official leak comes from an administration official, then it's officially OK. Unless the leaker is non-official, then it's unofficially, NOT OK.

    signed, Major Major

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    twinsdad9901, 18 May 2015 @ 2:24pm

    Administration officials can't have it both ways

    Sure they can. /sarc

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2015 @ 2:35pm

    It's simple

    The evident difference is that one source is more trustworthy than the other.

    Nowadays deceit is a default property on information coming from governments. Snodwen's infodump most remarkable property:

    Quality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2015 @ 2:41pm

    and surely that's a whole lot more sensitive than any 'Trade Deal', like TPP or TTIP, could ever be, yet they are still shrouded in more secrecy than the DDay landings of WWII!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 18 May 2015 @ 2:51pm

    There are different kinds of Leaks

    There are two different kinds of Leaks of Classified information.

    1. A person who swore to maintain the secrecy of classified information reveals it to the public.
    2. A person who swore to maintain the secrecy of classified information reveals it to the public.

    In leak number 1, the fact the the government is creating an apparatus to become a police state is kept as a secret. In leak number 2., the the public becomes aware that the government is becoming a police state.

    Leak number 1 can go overlooked. Leak number 2 cannot be overlooked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2015 @ 3:28pm

    "Let's also ignore that the US government has been caught blatantly exaggerating how leaks have "damaged" national security in the past, and that officials have already admitted their nightmare scenarios in this case have not actually come to pass."

    and yet we have CSI Cyber and weekly reports of some kind of "illegal" online activity since october 2014.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 May 2015 @ 4:54pm

    Simple really

    If the leak makes the government look good, then it's acceptable, whether it was 'authorized' or not.

    If the leak makes the government look bad, then it's threatening the very foundations of the country and to be considered high treason at best.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 18 May 2015 @ 8:22pm

    A newly exposed clandestine government department

    It is the Hypocritical Department of Hypocrisy. It's mandate is to provide government officials with plausible reasons why when they do something illegal, it is in the best interests of the nation, but when someone else does the same, they are terrorists or worse! FWIW, it IS a bipartisan department...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2015 @ 12:31am

    so does every self entitled elite in the USG have qualified immunity when they commit treason?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2015 @ 3:22am

    "The White House rejected initial reports from the region that attributed the raid to the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria."

    I think this part of the statement deserves closer examination given the fondness of the administration for taking credit for other party's actions in order to justify their overreaching surveillance activities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2015 @ 7:08am

    'al-Qaida in Iraq' did not 'morph into ISIS' ... You can't believe the most basic things they say to us

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zonker, 20 May 2015 @ 11:24am

    Take former CIA deputy director and torture advocate Mike Morrell, for example, who is currently on a book promotion tour and has been preposterously suggesting that Snowden's leaks somehow led to the rise of ISIS.
    You mean the same ISIS that the US armed and funded in Syria? Or how the US armed and funded al-Qaida in Afghanistan before that? Or how about the US armed and funded Sadam Hussein in Iraq? Strange how all the same groups the US arms today become enemies of the US tomorrow.

    Looks more to me like the US government led to the rise of ISIS, al-Qaida, and Sadam, not any whistleblowers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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