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The Dangers of Talking Too Much

People talk. That’s a fact. Whether at the water cooler, the fence post or on Facebook, people talk about almost anything and everything. Eventually though we all reach a point where what we really should do is just shut up. We’ve long crossed that point when it comes to intelligence and national security operations in this country.

For reasons that continue to mystify many, there is never a lack of people willing to speak to the media about previous or on-going national security and intelligence operations. Usually these discussions are done on an anonymous basis or on “deep background” to protect the identity of the source.

There’s another reason that people choose to be anonymous. It’s illegal. Whenever you get a hold of a secret, top secret or a “double secret probation” security clearance you are told in no uncertain terms that under penalty of law to not speak, write or communicate with anyone about what you know unless in secure environment and with people who hold similar security clearances. Regardless of that fact and the very severe penalties (e.g. employment termination, fines, arrests, prosecution, jail time), people just keep talking and talking and talking…

Now it’s easy to point fingers at the media as many people do when sensitive information is shared. The truth is the media is not the problem. We live in a free society and in that environment the media play an essential role in sharing information in its various forms to keep the public informed and conversant on a range of things. In short – they’re doing their jobs.

The fundamental problem is with those persons who care more about advancing their own egos and agendas than protecting the very people who work often silently and anonymously to keep this country safe from enemies foreign and domestic.

Lately there have been a truly disturbing number of very public examples that bring these conditions to light. They include:

As enticing and fascinating as each of these stories may be to people not regularly engaged with intelligence and security operations, each one of them crosses the line of “need to know.” There are details in each case that we as a public don’t need to know.

Here is how reckless this behavior has become. If you were to sit down with any government security official and ask them if it would be OK if you called up a couple of people you knew from Hollywood, or a couple of reporters from the New York Times and shoot the breeze about any of these missions, what do you think they would say?

I can assure you that their response would not be, “Hell yeah… Go for it. Tell ‘em ‘Hi’ for me will ya!

If you were such an individual who did ask such a question, I’m more than certain the government security official would take your name down, encourage you to take some additional remedial training in the do’s and don’ts of handling classified materials and then probably pick up the phone and call a superior to have whatever clearance you possessed, removed faster than you could get back to your desk.

Yet the sheer callousness, if not outright stupidity of the loose lips of these “leakers” goes on without any repercussions whatsoever.

The very lives of operatives who literally put it all on the line to take out bad guys and keep others at bay are put into the crosshairs by their own loose lipped countrymen. Furthermore, ongoing intelligence and security operations that literally take months, if not years to develop (and cost a fortune to execute) evaporate in a flash when details are leaked into whatever media outlet reports it first. Where is the benefit to the American citizen in that?

For the leakers, their egos crave the attention a reporter gives them by sharing what is literally a gold mine of information. Pulitzers, book and movie deals and more can be garnered if the reporter tells the story right and has all the details that people are dying to know. Who knows? Maybe Brad Pitt or Angelina will get to play the part of the leaker in the movie? Wouldn’t that be cool!

Or maybe it’s about making their boss look like they are in total command; making tough life and death decisions so there can be no believable charge by your boss’ detractors that they are a wussy when it comes to going after the bad guys. Elections can be won or lost if your boss does not look strong enough in life and death situations and we wouldn’t want that to happen now would we? I mean doesn’t appearance means everything in politics?

Each of the examples I cited, as well as others from previous presidential administrations are indicative of a culture that thrives more on the glare of ego-fulfilling attention than the satisfaction that their countrymen can sleep safe at night because people did their jobs (known and unknown) and kept their mouths shut.

Somehow that has been forgotten on to many levels but sadly we all live in a world that has long forgotten the adage that “silence is golden.”

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More