Time for the intelligence community to crack down on illegal leaking
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“Loose lips sink ships” is as true today as when the phrase was popularized as a slogan by the U.S. Office of War Information during WWII. We are now witnessing a stark reminder of the impact of intelligence leaks on America’s efforts to restore its role as a world leader in combating international terrorism.

As Great Britain faces the aftermath of the most significant Islamic terrorist attack since 2005, global security is being put at greater risk due to the unauthorized release of investigative information on the U.S. side of the Atlantic. This leak is, of course, deplorable.

The war on international terrorism rests in large measure on trust between and among intelligence and security partners on a global level. Few American partners are more trustworthy than our British colleagues. The cornerstone and bedrock of that trust rests on the ability to protect sensitive sources of information and the means by which it was collected. In the case of law-enforcement dependencies, the leaking of sensitive information can ultimately result in the unintended but no less significant undermining of a prosecution.

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Facing a British threat to curtail sensitive information sharing with American counterparts, a tentative truce has been reached to restore intelligence sharing with the U.S. It’s a tenuous agreement. How devastating to be having this discussion in May 2017 with one of our closest counterterrorism partners - nearly 16 years after 9/11. As we have seen before, there always exists the possibility of finding international ties between a terrorist event and the terrorist(s) - in this case, a 23-year-old named Salman Abedi and an improvised bomb placed just outside the Manchester Arena.

 

Leaking sensitive information about a particular case doesn’t just undermine the ability to find potential additional terrorism ties outside the country where the event took place. It also fundamentally erodes the trust between partners. The international community that continues to face the scourge of international terrorism can ill-afford any decrement in information sharing.

The British, however, must protect their information at all costs and have for understandable reasons sent a shot across the American bow concerning the impact of leaked information on their investigation in Manchester.

The unauthorized release of classified information is not only inherently a selfish act but a crime. Individuals who violate the law by disclosing classified information must be thoroughly investigated and then face the full legal consequences of breaking the law.

Our friends and allies shouldn’t have to second guess whether their American counterparts with the “need to know” are going to play loose with their information. Attempting to play politics or seek some comparative advantage by releasing classified information into the public arena has no place among those privileged or even honored to hold a security clearance.

The leaks continue to do incalculable damage to nation’s security. By extension, the loose lips undercut our dependency on those America relies on to share vital intelligence that often provides pieces of a puzzle rather than an entire picture of any single national security event.

We need bipartisan voices to counter the deepening “culture of leaks.” Our national security is at stake.

America can ill afford to see a downturn in intelligence and law-enforcement sharing. Yet in the absence of rooting out and prosecuting those individuals who think they have a right to break their oath of trust by disclosing sensitive information, tighter restrictions on information sharing must be enforced. This is an unfortunate consequence because in a high trust environment, new information is often discovered among intelligence and law-enforcement professionals. Restricting information will come at a price. Unfortunately, it’s a price that must be paid to keep the channels open to information sharing.

Our friends and allies must be assured that the U.S. government is deadly serious about protecting the source and/or the methods associated with sensitive information that is shared with the United States. Those assurances must be backed up with an unfaltering commitment to reverse the trend of late, with sensitive information being treated carelessly by those sworn to protect our national security.

There’s no time to lose. The political class in the executive and legislative branches must recommit to turning the tide where loose lips are concerned lest the American ship of national security continue to face the self-inflicted wounds of those loose lips. The alternative is too dangerous to contemplate.

David Shedd is a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation, and previously served as an acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2014-15.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.