Police officers guard a residence, a place where part of the investigation in to the Manchester Arena explosion is believed to be taking, in Manchester, United Kingdom on Thursday, May 24th, 2017. Greater Manchester Police are treating the explosion after the Ariana Grande concert, which took place on 05/22/2017 at Manchester Arena, as a terrorist incident. (Photo by Jonathan Nicholson/NurPhoto)(Sipa via AP Images)
H. L. Mencken famously once said: “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” The Manchester bombing should be enough in itself, but then we find out that the bomber had been ejected from his mosque and reported to the police well before the bombing:
Now how do we -- or should we -- know all these things? Through intelligence operations: the reports to the police should have been passed along to MI5; the watch list should have been available to MI5 and the police; MI6, we presume, should have been aware of his father's connections to Islamist terrorist losers; and, we presume, he didn't go to Libya and back without going through passport control.
This is what we call a "failure of intelligence."
Having done the intelligence thing, long ago, I'm normally willing to cut the intelligence community some slack. I know from personal experience that pretty nearly every career intelligence officer is responsible, at least reasonably dedicated to his job, and competent at the tasks to which he is assigned. I also know that a surprising number of them are idealistic about their jobs, devoted to the United States, determined to do their best to protect the American people.
Well, maybe not surprising. I may be growing cynical in my old age.
So, when I hear about a failure in intelligence, I usually am tempted to attribute it to one of two things: the essential difficulty of the task, or the incompetence of political appointees to what ought by rights be technical jobs.
The intelligence failures around 9/11 were like that. Contrary to what a consummate ass like Alex Jones will tell you, there weren't any really definite warnings of that particular attack: there were just analyses coming out of the intelligence community that said "al-Qaeda would like to attack the U.S." and "al-Qaeda has an idea of using an airplane" and "al-Qaeda has people inside the U.S." Along with those were reports of oddly intense-looking Arabs who wanted to learn to fly jets, but weren't very interested in learning to land them.
Those, however, being reports from within the U.S., were going to the FBI -- which was not then considered to be part of the general intelligence community, and was restricted from sharing them with the IC because of some of the changes in the law that came out of the Church Commission report. And also in part because of the infamous "wall" that Jamie Gorelick erected to preventintelligence sharing between the FBI and CIA.
It would, honestly, have been very difficult to connect the dots before the 9/11 attack: it was well-planned, their operational security wasn't bad, and it was a kind of attack almost no one had seriously considered.
Add to that the impediments to information sharing between U.S. foreign intelligence from the CIA and NSA, and U.S. domestic intelligence from the FBI, and frankly, it was damn near impossible.
The 9/11 attack, however, is well in the past, and at least in theory, those restrictions have been very much relaxed. (In some ways, far too relaxed, as we learn more about the ways in which the Obama administration was abusing intelligence products -- but that's a rant for another time.) We should be able now to gather this intelligence from all of our sources, and from intelligence shared with us by partners like the United Kingdom and Israel, to have a much better chance of using that intelligence wisely to protect Americans, British citizens, and Israelis.
But look at what has happened in the last, oh, six months. (I'm choosing that arbitrarily for reasons of length; we could go a lot further back for examples.)
We've seen anonymous sources leak that we were actively intercepting the phone calls of Russian Ambassador Kislev in order to attack General Flynn. We've seen the president's private calls with other heads of state leaked almost as soon as Trump hung up the phone. We've seen private conversations with Kislev and the Russian foreign secretary in the Oval Office leaked.
In the case of the Russian "leaks," the leaks were apparently at least somewhat misleading. How misleading? We don't know. On the one hand, we have the NSA saying what was given the Russians was "wholly appropriate"; on the other hand, I've talked to some of my IC sources, and they were -- how to put this -- veryunhappy, because there was a risk that the Russians had learned enough to blow an important source.
In any case, we do know one other thing: the New York Times and other outlets published the original leaks, with pious self-regard and mutual congratulations that they, the press, knew the Super Secret Trump had leaked, but they weren't going to publish it in the interests of national security.
Followed, in less than a day, by them publishing the Super Secret, and claiming that Israel originated the information.
You tell me, what's worse?
Trump potentially leaking something like that to the Russians? Or the New York Times publishing it for the entire world?
Those leaks are bad enough. In fact, yesterday I would have said those leaks -- exposing U.S. sources and methods and endangering our intelligence sharing with an ally, for blatantly political reasons -- was as bad as it could be.
I would have been wrong.
This week, the New York Times and other U.S. papers published the name andphotograph of the Manchester suicide bomber, as well as detailed explanations of how he avoided security, and photographs of essential components of the bomb itself, and they did so before the bomber's -- yes, I'm consciously not naming the son of a bitch -- before the bomber's network had been rolled up.
Worst of all, it turns out that this information was leaked to the New York Times by a member of the U.S. intelligence community from information shared by the Brits.
Prime Minister Theresa May was quite blunt about it this morning: the U.S. can forget further intelligence sharing on this topic. I expect she was quite firm with President Trump when they met privately later.
This has got to stop.
There are people in positions of trust within the United States government who are leaking very sensitive secrets because they have decided the Trump presidency must be undermined By Any Means Necessary (as they say in Berkeley).
There are people in positions of trust within the United States government leaking sensitive information about the murderers of little children, making it harder to catch them, and to prevent other attacks on other little children.
They are doing it with motivations I simply do not understand.
I cannot conceive of someone who would interfere in the capture of child murderers simply to damage Trump.
Or maybe I can. "By any means necessary," right? "Got to break a few eggs."