Saturday, October 13, 2007

Private Patriots and Public Traitors

There's a very interesting story out yesterday and today, about a private intelligence firm that hacked into Al Qaeda's communications, got ahold of a video of bin Laden, and provided this information to the White House.

According to the Washington Post, it wasn't long before someone in the government leaked this information to the press; ABC and Fox News (and others I think) posted excerpts of the video; al Qaeda promptly shut down its communications system; and the work carried out, for several years, to penetrate the enemy's systems, was all tossed aside.

NPR led off this morning with a breathless story along the lines of, "oh my, what in the world is a private intelligence company?" with inquiries into whether this was worrisome--as if the idea that only the government has reason to be concerned about such things, or should handle it.

This recalls the stories, previously, about how outrageous it is that there are "private" security firms that--gasp!--not only allow their employees to carry guns, but they use them! Again, as if somehow we're all safer when government uses such power. Of course, I realize the major part of the Blackwater story was the concern that this power was misused; but still there has been a strong undercurrent of suggesting that the problem lies precisely in Blackwater and others being "private" and worse, "for profit"!

In this case, the story is developing. But the private company, SITE Intelligence Group, did a good thing in penetrating al Qaeda's network, and a further good thing, in sharing the fruits of its work with the government. Someone -- it seems at this point to be someone in the government -- did something materially treasonous, although I doubt that was the intention. The effect is the same. One can only wonder for what motive--my guess would be for venal reasons, which is only more disgusting, really.

Realize that part of the damage of this is that the next private actor who comes up with something useful but secret that helps our cause against the terrorists will think twice about sharing it with the government.

Also, I want to know--did ABC and any other media outlet contact the government before going to press with this? Did anyone in the government even ask that it not be disclosed? Did the media refuse that request? There was a time, and I think it's still often true, that folks in the media will hold off upon such requests; and that the government has either failed to make the request, or to realize, until too late, what was at stake.

1 comment:

Fr. Larry Gearhart said...

I agree with everything you say, Martin, but I would point out there is serious reason to be concerned about the transition to a mercenary army.