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Protect Sources and Methods – The Threats from Intel Leaks

Like many Americans, I am concerned about the major intelligence leaks that have taken place over the past weeks and months. It is very disturbing to see this kind of activity occur, particularly in time of war. The unmasking of Dr. Skakil Afridi, a Pakistani physician, in the Bin Laden take down, and the significant reporting of the intricacies of cyber attacks against Iran’s nuclear program just make me cringe.

It is certainly not a new phenomenon here in Washington to leak details of intelligence operations and major criminal investigations to the media. I can recall several instances of leaks of important information on sensitive cases over many years. The leakers were almost never exposed, but in most instances, past leaks happened when we were not at war. Leaks that occur in time of war place our soldier’s and others involved in intelligence collection activities lives at risk. As we are witnessing, in the case of Dr. Afridi, his life has been destroyed because of intelligence leaks exposed in the media. I hope that something can be done for this brave man through diplomatic and behind-the-scenes negotiations.

The leak of the Iranian cyber attacks is also troubling because, as some would say, “payback is hell.” Iran is certainly becoming more technically adept and who is to say whether they will try to launch revenge cyber attacks here in the United States that may do major damage to some of our critical infrastructure. In the limited reading I have been doing on cyber, it looks to me like our systems are under attack every day from hackers, crackers, terrorists, and hostile foreign governments. I understand why we may have gone after Iran’s nuclear program with cyber attacks, and I support this kind of clandestine activity, but clandestine operations must remain secret!

Like many individuals who have worked in the Intelligence Community, I find the compromise of sensitive sources and methods reprehensible and unforgiveable. I have to wonder why any human being would want to provide intelligence to our country after seeing what has happened to Dr. Afridi. But people continue to help us at great risk to themselves, and we all should be thankful for their dedication and courage. I can’t imagine the cost of such compromises in terms of dollars and cents, but I would guess that many millions of dollars will be needed to recover from the cyber leak; and millions more may be needed to to counter cyber attacks that might result from this breach. Economic damage is difficult to estimate, but it is normally a byproduct of the exposure of sources and methods.

Leak investigations and counterintelligence/espionage operations are resource intensive, lengthy and don’t always produce satisfactory results. I hope that more can be done to prevent damaging disclosures of intelligence information in the future, but I am not optimistic.

Robert Blitzer blogs on law enforcement, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, emergency management, and public health and medical emergency response. Read More
  • Bob

    How about this,?…..why not try to stay out of others people’s countries?
     Yeah, we need their oil,etc , but whats wrong with a “business” deal instead of F-22’s and door to-door fighting in a country that sees us very differently that you may think. We have been fools all along for the seedy reasons we want to cover our tracks so the the world can’t see what we REALLY do.