LEAKS PRO AND CON
November 22 News Flash
The defence team for WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning is planning to call 50 witnesses at next month’s military hearing, promising to turn the proceedings into a detailed legal battle over the merits of the prosecution case against him.
The Bradley Manning support network, a group of sympathisers of the US soldier that has paid for the bulk of his legal fees so far, revealed that attorneys are preparing to launch a vigorous defence at the pre-trial hearing scheduled to take place at Ford Meade in Maryland on 16 December. Many legal angles will be pursued, with witnesses ranging from experts on whistle blowing to IT specialists who can comment on technical details relating to Manning’s access to intelligence databases.
The strategy is unusual for such pre-trial hearings, known in the army as Article 32 proceedings. It is common at this stage for defence teams to limit their engagement to a minimum, in order to withhold from the prosecution elements of their approach that could be crucial in any eventual trial.
WikiLeaks is an international self-described not-for-profit organisation that publishes submissions alleging corporate and government misconduct. Wikileaks publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. Its website, launched in 2006, has distributed thousands of documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and most recently, unredacted State Department cables.
The question is: who decides what alleged misconduct or other information should be reported. In one sense, founder Julian Assange and his staff make such decisions. In reality, the decisions are made by the seemingly endless chain of sources who, in anger, or a fit of retribution, or a self-sensed righteous obligation, elect to share secret or closely-held information. The disclosures go far beyond corporate or government misconduct, but strike at the very heart of the policy-making process, including guidance cables which are fundamental to the execution of foreign policy at embassies around the world.
Does the public have a right to know about outrageous cost over-runs on defense and other publicly funded programs? Surely. Is the public entitled to peel away the layers of secrecy shrouding a major cover-up like Watergate? Certainly.
But, the public does not need to know all the details of military and corporate strategy. That’s a key phrase – the right to know. The expectation is that this concept will be intensely debated by both sides during the forthcoming trial.
The issue of right to know has boundaries which far exceed government malfeasance. In today’s wired world, a seemingly infinite number of people go viral with information, much of it rumor, speculation, or gossip, much of it inherently private –and often negligently harmful to individuals and companies.
Frankly, Facebook causes me concern. Admittedly, after nearly 30 years as a keeper of the secrets, I remain an essentially private person who will carry some secrets to the grave. So, when I sent an author a memo critiquing a recent book, I was stunned to read Facebook memos harshly criticizing me, some very personal comments by people who have never met me, or read my writings.
I would caution every would-be poster: Is there a crime or misdeed. Will the information correct a wrong, illuminate a finding, or merely cause intended harm and embarrassment. And, not least, does the Internet public have a right to know, or, more stringently and narrowly, a need to know?
A would-be bomber was recruited to assassinate a head-of-state. The plot was foiled; that person is reportedly so deep in an island prison they have to shoot air to him through a cannon. While there was once a short list of personages believed to be beyond risk of assassination, that myth was shattered by the shooting of the Pope. Still, a foreign government did not want a public discussion of vulnerability, which might entice other mentally-twisted persons to make an attempt. There are no records.
As chief of financial intelligence, I wrote a paper on how to launder $100 million in five days, without being caught. After I finished patting myself on the back, the Deputy Secretary of State ordered that the original be classified Top Secret and all copies destroyed. His decision was correct; that guide in the wrong hands could be used by money launderers in the drug and weapons trades, as well as by terrorist organizations. I was asked by some officials in government to craft a plan for laundering money in a friendly country, in violation of its laws, to support certain informant actions. Sadly, I learned that the link I helped create had been abused, with the connivance of people in my own government. With the help of a foreign intelligence source with whom I was friendly, the link was broken.
The warning implicit in the Deputy Secretary’s decision served as a guide in a later situation. I briefed the leading bankers of a Central American country on the step-by-step procedures being used by drug traffickers to launder money through real estate transactions. The alarms went off when one of the bankers asked me to repeat the fourth step.
To be sure, not all indications of criminal actions should be made public – unless the alleged infraction can be proven. I received a cable from the US ambassador to an African country, asking if I knew why four Europeans were engaging in questionable transactions in that country. He had no proof, but was acting on a rumor shared by the European ambassador to that same country. Nothing in my copious files, but I routinely asked my aide to ask the CIA and DEA if they had any information. When that inquiry crossed a certain CIA desk, the proper response would have been to say no information; instead, because I chaired two international groups which yielded information outside US channels, the CIA sent an inquiry to its intelligence counterpart in Europe. The CIA wanted to know “what is Rayburn onto?” The European intelligence service, not wanting to admit it knew nothing, asked its foreign ministry if it was aware that I was conducting an intelligence probe in that African country. The foreign ministry, not wanting to admit a lack of knowledge, cabled its ambassador, who promptly strode into the US Embassy alleging I was conducting a probe of their foreign nationals – which spurred the US ambassador to rake me over the coals for having denied any knowledge of their activity. When the furor died down, we learned that the four Europeans were trying to sell some trucks but bribes were demanded, which they tried to circumvent. This is a very prime example of a circular argument.
I don’t read Bob Woodward’s books beyond the original Watergate tome. Woodward is famous (or infamous) for taking second-hand reports of conversations and weaving them into supposed fact – often to the detriment of someone he has targeted. Fortunately, he did not learn about a hypothetical situation which involved a chance remark. During a situation room discussion of what actions could be taken, if any, to persuade two neighboring countries to cooperate on a policy issue – with us and between themselves, despite their historic antagonism. An admiral turned to ask me what was the most out-of-the-box suggestion to consider. Jokingly, I said we should take some 500 pound cluster bombs, paint the national markings of each country on the bombs, then drop them stealthily on each opposing country. People laughed, but as we exited the room, a bird colonel whispered to me that the Air Force had a surplus of cluster bombs. Thought nothing of it until two weeks later, when an assistant secretary of state was at the Pentagon where a military official informed him (jokingly I hope) that certain Pentagon officials liked my solution. Obviously, it never was given serious contemplation, but it is the kind of dialogue which Woodward would convert into a declaration that the US considered forcing two countries to go to war.
Readers might be surprised to learn that the right-to-know principle is applied within the State Department, and, often to our detriment, with sister agencies. As Congressional hearings on the effectiveness of the office of the director of national intelligence have confirmed, there are abundant examples of withholding information – and the principal violators are State, Justice, FBI and the CIA. At root with Justice is the concern that intelligence-generated information cannot be made public in court; at root with all of them is the fear that informants will be named. State and CIA zealously protect sources and methods, sometimes from each other.
Sometimes with good cause. I knew of money laundering investigations in one country in which multiple US agencies were unknowingly using –and being played by – the same source. I brought them together and informed them of their vulnerability. Did they appreciate my exposing their mutual vulnerability, even behind closed doors. No, they were incensed by their embarrassment.
That does not construe to mean that all State officials could be trusted. One director of a country team somehow learned that US agencies were investigating one or more banks in a country within his orbit. I refused to tell him, citing need to know. An order came down from an Under Secretary: brief him. The official, who had served in that country, promptly went there and told the president of a bank that his institution was suspected of money laundering – and blew open an investigation which was targeted on that bank president. The State official said he thought he was helping a friend.
A top State official was incensed that he was being pilloried in private by leading officials of another government. When next they were in Washington, he embarrassed them by citing several statements they had made. Worse, they instantly knew we had a satellite listening device over their country. Not his first or last gaffe, but the system protected him.
The worst leaker of secrets in Washington is the Congress. I was astounded at a House hearing when a Member of Congress disclosed the identity of an undercover agent. I have an NBC clip which shows me leaving the hearing after refusing to testify and locking my briefcase. The Department was scolded by an ambassador from a major European ally, incensed by a Time magazine story alleging that the US was intercepting microwave transmissions between major European banks, the data shared between selected CIA and State officials. A CIA official had told a Senate committee about the intercepts; the Senate staffer told Time; everybody was trying to impress others that they were in the know. Very few people in State read those intercepts, but a European ambassador was told I was among them. When Senator Kerry was making headlines with his investigation of BCCI, he had an aide testify that a secret arrangement had been made with China to safe harbor certain funds in Hong Kong. I could not testify because I could not publicly disclose certain secrets, but I talked to Kerry in a hallway to tell him his staffer made up the story. He asked how I knew the details of a meeting between the Bank of China and the Hong Kong governor; I replied I was in the room in Hong Kong. Kerry let the hearing record stand. More recently, a man approached me at the Cathedral City tournament; he claimed that he had seen me among the US officials walking out of the Hall of justice in Nicosia in 1969; I knew his next question was whether the US was guilty of assassinating Archbishop Macharios; (we were not) but I said I would not comment on the matter, not even whether I had ever been in Nicosia.
Over the years, I became obsessive about internal leaks. Years ago, I had a photographer taking infra-red photos of people leaving a certain motel in suburban NYC. As chance would have it, the doors to adjoining rooms opened on the same door pillar. In addition to certain Mafioso, the photos included a well-known politician and the wife of another well-known politician. I knew all the players in this quadrangle. The next day, I went into my friend’s office, and laid on his desk the negatives and the only prints. I told him it stops with me, and hopefully stopped with them. It did. In today’s viral world, two families would have been destroyed. This information I have never divulged.
I learned a lesson about controlled leaks – and readers should bear in mind that what they see as scoops or investigative reporting may in fact be deliberate leaks. My first overseas trip began with a classified briefing by Secretary of State Rogers – so intense was the control of information that we had to sign for our briefing books, then return them. On the way to the airport, I was stunned to hear Marvin Kalb broadcasting a report on the meeting. Every President, every Cabinet official has favorite reporters. And the US will deliberately leak highly classified information; eg, to stop a ranking government official in a country from becoming a source for cocaine, I was asked toprovide proof to a leading newspaper of his purchases of cocaine-making chemicals. The shipments were halted.
I know too well the lapses of others. I was in Buenos Aires to speak on international banking and money laundering controls at the distinguished University of Belgrano. At a dinner with some officials that night, I had just taken my seat when a distinguished looking gentleman – think Ricardo Montalban at middle age – reached over, plucked the card naming my intended dinner companion, and sat down. I offered my hand; he responded, “I know who you are; you sank my ship.” There is a presidential directive concerning such decisions; I was one of several who combined to make that decision. But, their identities are supposedly secret. I knew this man, president of a shipping line, would not tell me how he knew; instead of asking, I informed him we had solid evidence his ships were carrying drugs. By the end of dinner, he was assuring me steps would be taken to prevent crews from smuggling.
I was also exposed, again by my contemporaries, concerning an international financial transaction which was thwarted. The transaction involved an international entrepreneur who had strong ties to certain top-ranking US officials. I became the subject of a letter sent by his attorneys to the Secretary of State. Very serious business; this same entrepreneur used several calculated measures to force the resignation of a British intelligence official. The US response; you didn’t hire him, you can’t fire him.
The point I am trying to make is there are many good reasons why the US government has to operate in secret, and secure both policy and operational information, internally and externally, under the canopy of need to know. Does the general public need to know how certain former KGB officials manipulated the currency markets in Eastern Europe. Or that a rogue intelligent agent tried to launder money in Saudi Arabia. Or that a certain US official had a liking for young boys on his travels to Asia. Or how the possible takeover of an Israeli bank by another bank fronting for ex-KGB officials was aborted.
Or who killed a blonde bombshell and left her naked body on an Appalachian trail. (I think I know; the man whom the police and I think killed her has told people he thinks I suspect him; he’s in prison for another crime.)
Or how the mafia in Corleone Sicily acquired the codes for tested telexes, which major banks use to transfer money internationally; I was party to the dialogues which saved a British bank $300 million dollars on a scam in Singapore. There was no need for public dissemination, not least to prevent others from attempting the same. Or who attempted a gold scam on Britain’s largest bank; they cleverly made a duplicate of the bank’s seal, but they dated the transaction a day before the new seal went into effect, which I confirmed by calling the bank’s head of security, a former British agent.
Often, certain secrets are closely held internally but used to pre-empt action detrimental to US interests by informing trusted foreign officials. I cautioned officials of one country in this hemisphere not to accept an investment by a foreign concern, which I knew was backed by a Russian bank which did not have the funds, but was fronting for an alleged Russian mafiya group. Our ambassador was livid that my action denied this much ballyhooed phony investment. He grudgingly accepted the fact that he was among those misled. Would public disclosure have benefitted anyone? No. Other banks who had been offered the phony bonds were quietly notified.
What compels unauthorized leaks of secrets? Frequently, people seek to expose a wrong, or to promote what they perceive as a public good. But many are obviously seeking to humiliate, or titillate, or they want to avenge a hurt, or promote themselves while denying opportunities to others, and disclosing some item gives them stature
among their audience.
However, iike school children, some people simply cannot keep a secret. Eg, a few years ago, a group of parents assembled on the ridge
overlooking national team tryouts at the Olympic training center in ChulaVista. As the players came up the hill, I noticed one parent was holding a red-colored colume; he approached and asked, “Are you the Rayburn Hesse discussed in this book about the Russian Mafiya?” I said yes, but asked him to keep that information to himself. Naturally, the word spread. He meant no harm; he just couldn’t resist.
Secrets can be used in retaliation. A secret document was planted on my desk while I was in Europe which caused me to lose one type of clearance for two years. Another official wanted my job. A top official asked me for secret documents; he disclosed the information to others outside the department, to their profit. He was “golden” politically, so I took the blame for giving him the documents. I resorted to a series of codes to bury documents in files no one would suspect because certain officials in our government were demanding information they had no obvious reason to know.
The former director of clandestine affairs at CIA was accused of using intelligence to force certain agents out of the company, in his controversial search for a Russian mole. Yet, when James Jesus Angleton was buried at Arlington, virtually every one in US and foreign intelligence was there. If he was so hated and feared, a reporter asked, why this large turnout? A top company official replied, “We wanted to make sure that son of a bitch was really dead.”
I expect a few mourners will voice a similar comment when I depart this mortal coil.