Intelligence: Al Qaeda Wins One in the Court


March 7, 2006: The release of the names of over 500 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, after the Department of Defense complied with a Freedom of Information Act request by the Associated Press was ordered by a federal judge, is yet another blow to American intelligence efforts. In essence, the Department of Defense 's efforts to protect the families of detainees, who cooperate, from retaliation, has been set back. In addition to that, as the names get named, it will become much easier for al Qaeda to figure out what the United States probably knows, giving the terrorist organization a huge counter-intelligence coup.

In the war on terror, interrogations are going to provide a lot of the valuable intelligence - often providing details about the structure of al Qaeda (for instance, such interrogations have shown how al Qaeda compartmentalizes information). Often, people cooperate as long as assurances can be given about the safety of their family. Al Qaeda also will now be willing to tell potential members that if captured, their families could be subject to reprisals, allowing it to enforce a version of the Mafia's code of omerta.

The other effect of the names of who the United States has in custody being released is that it will make damage assessment easier for the terrorist organization. One of the crucial aspects of counter-intelligence is figuring out just what the other side knows (or could know) about your capabilities and intentions. This is what enables you to avoid getting caught by surprise (the way the Japanese carrier force was at the Battle of Midway in 1942). The revelation of who the United States of America is holding will permit al Qaeda to have a very good idea of what the United States potentially knows.

The magnitude of this counter-intelligence coup is staggering considering some of the high-level al Qaeda personnel the United States is known to have in custody. The revelations forced by the Associated Press's FOIA request could be compared with the Japanese knowing about American code breaking efforts in 1942, or if Germany knew of the similar code-breaking efforts during the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted from 1939 to 1945. This is knowledge that is crucial to the war on terrorism, and now al Qaeda knows the United States has that information. This will lead to counter-measures on the part of the terrorist group - and the United States will face increased vulnerability to attacks as a result.

The released names will also result in a flurry of lawfare - as media outlets and human rights groups begin to demand more information, while the human rights groups will also solicit plaintiffs - and have the threat of friendly judges that they can turn to. These groups will also have the benefit of potentially strained relations between the Justice Department (which controls the appellate lawyers), and the Department of Defense (which is focused on getting actionable intelligence to protect the country, usually by making lots of terrorists good terrorists). - Harold C. Hutchison ([email protected])




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