National Journal’s National Security Insiders said the recent and much-condemned national-security leaks to news organizations will damage American foreign policy--but only a little.
Fifty-six percent said that the leaks, which included confirmation of sustained U.S. cyberattacks on computers that run Iran’s nuclear-enrichment sites and details about President Obama’s use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists, would have a minimal impact on foreign policy. “The United States will find it increasingly difficult to conduct foreign policy if it cannot keep its secrets,” one Insider said. “On the other hand, leaks are all too common already--these leaks are just more of the same, albeit with perhaps graver consequences since they deal with attacks against a foreign state.”
The leaks may damage foreign policy, another Insider said, but they won’t affect national security. “It seems clear that the Iran leak was for partisan political purposes, but it's not as though Iran failed to notice what was happening at the time. The willy-nilly leaking of relatively sensitive information over the past few years with few grave consequences just shows how overclassified U.S. foreign policy is.”
Twenty-three percent of Insiders were more concerned about the implications. One Insider said that the greatest damage came by the “seemingly official confirmation” that Washington was behind the Stuxnet attack on Iranian computer systems. “Prior to the claim of responsibility by administration officials, even experts were unsure who was responsible for the attack,” one Insider said.
“Iran will use this confirmation to justify its own acts of deception and concealment in the nuclear area, and to try to portray itself as the victim rather than the source of the problem. And why? Because some selfish people who care more about their own interests than the interests of the nation wanted to make themselves and their boss look good.”
Only 21 percent said the leaks would have no impact. “Everybody hates leaks; everybody leaks,” one Insider said. “It only damages U.S. foreign policy if you like the policy.”
Separately, against the backdrop of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicating that U.S. patience with Pakistan is wearing thin, 58 percent of Insiders said they expect relations between the two countries to get even worse by November. That time frame falls one year after the NATO strike that mistakenly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan--and coincides with the U.S. presidential elections.
“The U.S. and Pakistan are on a collision course because of the view of both Congress and the Obama administration that Pakistan is little more than a American vassal state, subject to U.S. orders and commands,” one Insider said. “Pakistan is approaching the point of rebellion.”
The Bush administration sought Pakistani support by “bribing them with Coalition Support Funds,” another Insider said. “The early Obama administration tried hugging the military elite. Nothing worked. Tough talk is the third approach.”
Thirty-nine percent said that the relations would stay about the same. “Relations cannot get much worse without an outright break, and that won't happen,” one Insider said.
One Insider quipped that ties will stay “the same, which means continue to deteriorate.”
1. Will the recent and much condemned national security leaks to news organizations damage American foreign policy?
- Yes--a little 56%
- Yes--a lot 23%
- Not at all 21%
"Leaks are nothing new and over the years have been more nuisance than problem. Adversaries already expect, but leaks affirm, making hard sensitive operations harder."
"Whatever damage might have been done to foreign policy was offset by the benefit of the American public discovering the extent of Obama's secret and illegal wars--drone as well as cyber."
"Not the first time. Transitory impact."
"Note the lack of whining and hand-wringing coming from the intelligence community about the politicization of intelligence, a common refrain during the Bush administration. Politicization seems to not be much of a problem for the bureaucrats at Langley and Foggy Bottom as long as the proper politics are being promoted."
"Will impede our ability to work with the security services of other countries (especially if we we can't keep a secret, which has significant long-term implications) more than straight-up foreign policy per se."
"Every leak entails at least some damage, to security discipline and to the ability of government officials to function without fear of further leaks, and often more than that."
"Other governments know that the U.S. shamelessly touts its own achievements through media leaks, so some of the damage is already priced in. Still, advertising how readily we expose people who work with us is a bad diplomatic business model!"
"As in the 1970s, other intelligence services will trust us less."
"Because so many leaks are officially approved, however, it will be difficult to prosecute comparable unapproved leaks. In the 1980 election campaign, the Carter administration leaked the program to build a stealthy intercontinental bomber, the B-2. The apparent motive was to quell Republican criticism that it had risked U.S. security by canceling a program to build the non-stealthy B-1 bomber. If this leak had come from a whistle-blower, many in the national-security establishment would have voiced shock and outrage that the leak had risked U.S. security by giving the Soviets more time to develop B-2 countermeasures."
"Confirmation that Stuxnet was a U.S/Israeli concoction has brought cyberwarfare out of the shadows and legitimized it as an element of statecraft. Expect that other countries which may have resisted the urge will now begin to bolster both their offensive and defensive capabilities, perhaps to target/resist the United States, perhaps to target their traditional enemies/our allies. And unlike a nuclear program, which is expensive, technically ambitious, and difficult to hide, these activities can be conducted by a few gen-X types working on their laptops. The genie is out of the bottle, and the world is now a much more dangerous place."
"Leaks always do some damage, though not as much as some think. On the other hand, given that recent leaks involved Iran and Pakistan, they have merely served to harden opinion among the leadership of the former, and inflame the public in the latter."
"The Stuxnet story threatens discreet cooperation with allies and could well motivate/legitimate Iranian actions against a much more vulnerable American infrastructure."
"Not only will the leaks damage U.S. foreign policy, they will also make it harder to gather both human and technical intelligence. These revelations make it harder for our diplomatic and intelligence partners to trust us--and we may never know what information is being withheld from us as a result."
"We should not be surprised when the technology that we developed, and highlighted in David Sanger's book, is turned against us."
Not at all
"Everybody hates leaks; everybody leaks. It only damages U.S. foreign policy if you like the policy."
"This is about the election, not national security."
2. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated that U.S. patience is wearing thin with Pakistan. By November, do you expect U.S.-Pakistani relations to:
- Deteriorate 58%
- Stay about the same 39%
- Improve 3%
"The bigger deterioration could come after November--unless Washington can start to make clear that we're not out of [Afghanistan] in 2014."
"What is our leverage? Pakistan is preparing for a future without the United States in the area."
"The only short-term leverage the Pakistanis have is the Kyber Pass transit. Long term, as the United States pulls out of Afghanistan, there will be fewer reasons to tolerate Pakistan's behavior. Once fully out of Afghanistan, look for the United States to more publicly and consistently favor India, the far more important strategic partner for the future."
"Kind of hard to envision what worse looks like, but appears to be the case...."
"We are inexorably (and tardily) moving to a policy of containment when it comes to the threats that could emanate from an imploding nuclear state."
"The political jabs that each U.S. presidential candidate will throw at one another over Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan will result in greater confusion, rumor-mongering and conspiracy theories by the Pakistanis and thus further deteriorate our current and long-term relationship. They will interpret this rhetoric as policy and will hold it against whichever candidate wins in November."
"It is time that the United States recognizes that Pakistan is not just duplicitous but is an enemy of the United States in South Asia."
"Pakistan needs a relationship with the United States but will play to domestic needs for the forseeable future. The road will remain rocky."
"By November, ties with Pakistan will not likely improve, but longer-term prospects are better. Reductions in U.S. combat operations against ethnic Pashtun insurgents will help. So will U.S.-India rapprochement. Pakistan needs better U.S. ties if it hopes to restrain burgeoning U.S.-Indian security cooperation. The main U.S. interest in Pakistan is preserving the security[of] its nuclear arsenal and averting nuclear war on the subcontinent. Islamabad shares much of this interest, and more cooperation in this area may be possible."
"We need them, though less so than before. They need us, though less so than before."
"Pakistanis are in a 'wait and see' mode."
"The Pakistanis--can't live with them and can't live without them."
"U.S. foreign policy elites repeat that a) the key to Afghanistan is Pakistan, b) Pakistan is not doing what we want, and c) we wish they would. Simply saying over and over that Pakistan is acting against what we (wrongly) think are its interests isn't going to change anything."
"U.S.-Pakistani relations are already at an all-time low, in spite of countless high-level U.S. efforts to improve them. The distrust between the two sides is so deep that it will take a complete change in the Pakistani leadership before relations can begin to improve."
"Lots of talk, but little will change. Relations have always been fraught, and they will continue to be so."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.
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