Friday, July 30, 2010

Julian's Hitlist

Warning: What follows is largely a policy discussion. Read at your own risk.

Many people have already commented on the propriety of WikiLeaks and their release of thousands of pages of classified ISAF intelligence and incident reports from Afghanistan. As far as I'm able to determine, the responses have ranged from the overwhelmingly positive among the ardently free-speech/anti-secrecy crowd, to the crushingly negative from the big government hawks and GWOT fanatics.* Of course, the intel community is unsurprisingly alternating between horror and rage.

*In the former group seem to be a pretty high percentage of people who count The Pentagon Papers as a formative event in their lives, and probably consider the assassination of JFK an unresolved issue. The latter group, at the other end of the spectrum, is full of the same people who were puzzled by all the fuss over "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

Not unexpectedly, various senior government and military figures have condemmed the release of the documents as a breach of security, a violation of ethics or simply bad faith. In truth, it's probably all of those things, but debating whether or not laws were broken is kind of missing the point.

SecDef Gates and Chairman of the JCS Mullen have both publically and strongly criticized WikiLeaks for making the information available without first vetting it for details that might potentially put people at risk. Most of the furor (at least on CNN and the BBC) has been about the risk to US and ISAF servicemembers. A careful study of the documents could allow a clever enemy to piece together useful intel about our TTPs (Tactics, Techniques and Procedures) and thereby develop some counter-measures. In addition, in theory, the Taliban could learn the identity or operating habits of ISAF personnel, especially those engaged in intelligence collection and contact with the local population.

WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, claims that the documents have been redacted to conceal the identities of ISAF personnel and this seems (so far) to be largely true. However, as Tom Coughlin and Giles Whittell report for The Australian, no such care appears to have been taken for the Afghans identified in the documents.

In just two hours of searching the WikiLeaks archive, The Times found the names of dozens of Afghans credited with handing intelligence to US forces. Their villages are given for identification and, in many cases, their fathers' names.

As anyone who has spent any time here can tell you, it's pretty simple to positively identify an Afghan with only his first name, his father's name and the name of his village. This is not like trying to find "Dave, son of Pete, from Cleveland." It's more like looking for "Dave Peterson from Lexington, Nebraska." Not all that hard, especially if the bad guys already have suspicions about their old friend Dave.

And, of course, the Taliban have proven that they are not adverse to casting their net rather widely when it comes to retribution and public displays of dissatisfaction. Can't find Dave, 'cause he's fled to the nearest FOB for protection? No worries. Just shoot his uncle and throw rocks at his wife until she's dead. Dave will surrender voluntarily to prevent them from taking out their frustrations on his kids.

So Mr. Assange and his cronies, under the guise of freedom of information, have just put hundreds, if not thousands, of Afghans in mortal danger.* Not just the informants who cooperate with ISAF or GIRoA, but their families and friends as well.

*Note that I say "under the guise of freedom of information" because I don't believe that Mr. Assange's** primary concern is dispelling the shadows of government secrecy. He's a modern tech-savvy equivalent of the anti-war protestors that were active during Vietnam. He's out to stop this war (perhaps all wars) and, ironically, he doesn't care who gets hurt in the process. Where's the Ohio National Guard when you need them?
**Is it just me, or does Julian Assange look like a guy who tried out for a role in the Twilight movies as "the geeky vampire?" Somebody should check his fridge and make sure there's no mysterious packages marked "Blood Bank" in there.

ISAF is not sitting on their hands through all of this. According to the NY Times, Pentagon officials are busy screening the documents to determine which Afghans are at risk of reprisals, but that will take time. In the race between the Pentagon and the Taliban to see who reacts faster, my money is on the bad guys. And they're already on the job as well. Also from the Times:

A spokesman for the Taliban told Britain’s Channel 4 News on Thursday that the insurgent group is scouring classified American military documents posted online by the group WikiLeaks for information to help them find and “punish” Afghan informers.

We need not guess what kind of "punishment" they're contemplating.

The point of all this, at least from my perspective, is fairly straightforward. We have over 1500 Afghans employed at my company, spread over every province in Afghanistan. Many of them have worked with or for the government, ISAF or the U.S. or Afghan military prior to coming to work for me. And a conservative estimate would be that there are thousands more in their extended families. Those are all people who are dependent on my company for a significant portion of their income and their continued well-being. In short, you're messing with my people. Even if only a small percentage of them could be classified as "informer" by the Taliban, that's still hundreds who are potentially named in the WikiLeaks report.

Consider yourself on notice, Mr. Assange. If even one of my people suffers because of your pathetic attempt at relevance, they will all know who is to blame. And Afghan justice is often a very personal affair. I only promise that I won't let them throw rocks at your head.

h/t to Abu Muqwama at CNAS


Anonymous said...

Seems a bit silly to slip in something about his *hair color*, doesn't it? :/

Henrik said...

One would think it was just as much common sense to protect the Afghani informants as it is to protect ISAF personnel working in the country.

It seems to me that while they may (or may not) have noble intentions, Mr Assange and Wikileaks really need to think twice about how they handle the release of information leaked to them. And about their responsibility, due to the nature of their site and service.

(That's a polite way of saying that was one hell of a dumbass mistake to make, especially by a self-proclaimed journalist like Assange.)

Anonymous said...

I disagree/agree with many of your positions, including this issue, but I respect your clear-headed descriptions, just as with babatim. Regarding policy being beyond your paygrade, all I have to say is most of the long-term strategy in the ME is politicized and is developed by intellectual idiot savants, whose connection to reality is non-existant. These idiot savants- I guess we should call them "experts"- work in partnership with self-promoters in Congress whose power is based on a collection of troglodytes at home and sleazy Wall Street types. So policy post away, it's bound to be better than the crap most experts write.

Matt said...

Fantastic post and I absolutely agree with your assessment. Julian will have blood on his hands because of this careless leak.

Riceball said...

Great post and I agree with your %100 about Mr. Assange. I guess the moron doesn't seem to understand that he can be prosecuted for not only leaking the info but for what amounts to "offering aid and comfort to the enemy". If any friendly Afghans and/or their families are hurt as a result of this miscreants deeds I sincerely hope that he gets to witness Afghan justice firs hand.