The release of classified embassy cables by WikiLeaks has been “devastating” for U.S. foreign relations, according to the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told The Hill in a sit-down interview that it will take years to repair the damage from the release of the diplomatic cables, which included candid — and occassionally disparaging — assessments of foreign countries and their leaders.
“I have not been to a country yet that doesn’t bring that up within the first few minutes and about how damaging it was and how it breeds distrust,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the fallout from the WikiLeaks incident is evident in his meetings with foreign leaders, who often vent their frustrations to him.
“It’s hard to sit in these meetings and get lectured. And they’re right. The damage that this has done is real and it’s significant. And it is long-lasting. This is not going to go away.”
Rogers said the National Security Agency (NSA) is developing a secure system to ensure that the diplomatic cables never leak again. The program, dubbed “Smart Access,” would orchestrate a system of security clearances and base a person’s access to information on his or her area of expertise and level of intelligence-gathering.
“I think we’re going to get to a very good place within the very near future on that,” Rogers said of Smart Access. “With the volumes of information that we collect, I think it’s going to revolutionize the way that we actually take that information, put it into a product that’s actually useful to a policymaker or provides some actionable intelligence for either the intelligence community or the Department of Defense.
“It will make us quicker, faster, better and more accurate,” he said.
The website WikiLeaks released more than 250,000 embassy cables last November containing a plethora of embarrassing observations from diplomats. Some lawmakers have likened the leaks to a terrorist attack because of the damage they inflicted on the U.S. around the world.
Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, has been charged with 34 counts of leaking classified military material in connection with the WikiLeaks incident.
NSA’s move to implement a program like Smart Access comes as the agency tries to develop a framework for greater information-sharing between the cyber-intelligence community and private businesses that could be vulnerable to attack, Rogers said.
Rogers said that public-private partnership is supported by CIA Director Leon Panetta and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“We’re exploring the notion of having maybe one of our national labs be the incubator for this public-private consortium to come up with the best practices and a way for us to share classified information that NSA might have with the private sector so that they can provide security from attack on their systems,” Rogers said.
“I think that’s the way forward. We’re going to have to flush a lot of issues out in that. But I think you’re going to see more and more.”
Rogers said the committee has already gotten good feedback from Panetta, Clapper and other leaders in the intelligence community for the change in direction in the House panel. Rogers and ranking Democrat Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.) have vowed to work together on policy issues and do away with the partisan tone that has dominated the committee since the 9/11 attacks.
“Dutch and I sat down and said, look, over the past few years the committee has been a little bit dysfunctional in the sense of the highly charged partisanship that’s been brought in, even in a classified setting, to do our work,” Rogers said.
“And I do think it detracted from the mission of the committee. I think the prestige of the committee waned. I think its ability to actually conduct real and serious oversight waned. And so we decided we were really going to make a concerted effort to remove as much politics out of there as humanly possible, given that this is a political body. And I think we’ve been very successful.”
Rogers said the new bipartisan spirit has been evident in recent budget hearings where Republican and Democratic staffers have sat together and held joint briefings for members.