Quotable: Secretary Gates on WikiLeaks

Although today's press briefing and Q&A with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen concentrated on the release of the DOD working group's study on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", the SECDEF's response to a Wikileaks question should be disseminated as widely as possible and hopefully someone in the press will pick it up and write about it (a journalist forwarded an excerpt to an e-mail list I belong to) -- see the bolded portion below -- the emphasis is mine. I would say no better words could have been spoken on this issue.

Every PAO should have this in talking points -- if queried, repeat the SECDDEF's words.

Q: WikiLeaks. Post-WikiLeaks reaction. What's your sense on whether the information-sharing climate and environment created after 9/11 to encourage greater cooperation and transparency among the intelligence communities and the military led to these three massive data dumps? And how concerned are you now there may be an overreaction to clamp down on information dispersal because of the disclosures?

SEC. GATES: One of the common themes that I heard from the time I was a senior agency official in the early 1980s in every military engagement we were in was the complaint of the lack of adequate intelligence support. That began to change with the Gulf War in 1991, but it really has changed dramatically after 9/11.

And clearly the finding that the lack of sharing of information had prevented people from, quote, unquote, "connecting the dots" led to much wider sharing of information, and I would say especially wider sharing of information at the front, so that no one at the front was denied -- in one of the theaters, Afghanistan or Iraq -- was denied any information that might possibly be helpful to them.

Now, obviously, that aperture went too wide. There's no reason for a young officer at a forward operating post in Afghanistan to get cables having to do with the START negotiations. And so we've taken a number of mitigating steps in the department. I directed a number of these things to be undertaken in August.

First, the -- an automated capability to monitor workstations for security purposes. We've got about 60 percent of this done, mostly in -- mostly stateside. And I've directed that we accelerate the completion of it.

Second, as I think you know, we've taken steps in CENTCOM in September and now everywhere to direct that all CD and DVD write capability off the network be disabled. We have -- we have done some other things in terms of two-man policies -- wherever you can move information from a classified system to an unclassified system, to have a two-person policy there.

And then we have some longer-term efforts under way in which we can -- and, first of all, in which we can identify anomalies, sort of like credit card companies do in the use of computer; and then finally, efforts to actually tailor access depending on roles. But let me say -- let me address the latter part of your question. This is obviously a massive dump of information.

First of all, I would say unlike the Pentagon Papers, one of the things that is important, I think, in all of these releases, whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq or the releases this week, is the lack of any significant difference between what the U.S. government says publicly and what these things show privately, whereas the Pentagon Papers showed that many in the government were not only lying to the American people, they were lying to themselves.

But let me -- let me just offer some perspective as somebody who's been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: "How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel."

When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-'70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again if we were going to share it all with the Congress. Those fears all proved unfounded.

Now, I've heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think -- I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it's in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

Many governments -- some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

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Col. Maxwell, thanks for highlighting SECDEF Gates' quote. (His off-the-cuff response had far more wisdom than most of the crap now masquerading as "Wikileaks analysis" in the blogosphere.)

But you think too small, when you say that, "Every PAO should have this in talking points."

There is a larger lesson here -- about Organizational Learning, and institutional adaptation to minimize self-inflicted Info-War.

(We've improved considerably since the Pentagon Papers era, but self-inflicted Info-War remains at unacceptable levels, due partly to the career incentives of group-think Powerpoint whoredom.)

Somehow, I'd like to see you incorporate this lesson in the curriculum at NDU ===>

Strategic-level Info-Ops must recognize that every organization colors its own perceptions of reality.

To me, the core of SECDEF Gates' insight is this:

"the Pentagon Papers showed that many in the government were not only lying to the American people, they were lying to themselves."

And why were they so insulated from reality, that they could get away with lying to themselves?

For interpretive context, I would wrap Gates' remarks in the following quote, from "Imperial Secrets: Remapping the Mind of Empire," by Col. Patrick A. Kelley, (National Defense Intelligence College Press, 2008):

"If absolute power corrupts absolutely, it also tends to isolate completely --
twin tendencies any executive authority risks
· · ·
Bureaucracies rise in tandem with that isolation, providing the intellectual equivalent of walls and gates; but subverting that intellectual structure by act of will can prove nearly as impossible as escaping from the physical walls, for reasons of either status or security."
(p. 97)