Yesterday Ed had a bit of fun talking about the worst selfie idea in the history of selfies, specifically the ISIS fighter who was posting photos which revealed critical information about his location. This led to a rather rapid visit by an unwanted fan in the form of some explosive activity. The story was the result of information gleaned from a top military commander who was none too impressed with the “ISIS moron.”
In a speech sponsored by the Air Force Association on June 1 in Arlington, Gen. Herbert J. “Hawk” Carlisle, commander of Air Combat Command, said airmen in Florida were able to call in an airstrike after finding an Islamic State “moron” talking about the jihadist group’s fighting abilities online.
“The [airmen are] combing through social media and they see some moron standing at this command,” Carlisle said, as the Air Force Times reported. “And in some social media, open forum, bragging about command and control capabilities…. And these guys go, ‘Ah, we got an in.’”
Great story, huh? I mean, we all like to feel better about the Good Guys vs Bad Guys aspect of the war with ISIS and other terrorists. These creatures are evil incarnate, and with our understandable national tendency towards a bit of gallows humor now and then (literally, in this case) there is an obvious temptation to poke fun at them. But this is yet another story where I have to ask what seems like an obvious question:
Why do we know about this?
In the never ending quest by cable news outlets and major papers to fill the many empty hours of the day, we’re now getting all sorts of background on the story. Huge numbers of ISIS Twitter accounts are featured with more examples of how they broadcast information, along with reports on the teams of military analysts who are observing them constantly and ferreting out details of their movements. As I’m watching this unfold, the first thing that comes to my mind is what must be taking place in the next meeting of ISIS leaders and their field commanders.
You morons! They’re tracking our every move on Facebook and Twitter? I want some heads to roll, and this time I’m not talking about the infidels! Tighten up the security and stop making us look like idiots!
And with that, a valuable – if somewhat unorthodox – source of intelligence dries up. This is reminiscent of the great Stuxnet debacle. The computer virus which infiltrated Iran’s nuclear program was a brilliant stroke, no matter who cooked it up. But why did we know about it? As soon as the news broke I was on this site asking how word of it got out and whether the release was going to hinder future efforts in a similar vein. We apparently failed in a similar run at North Korea five years ago. That was all before the news went public, but the North Koreans were able to isolate their systems well enough to avoid catching the bug. Putting two and two together, other enemy states should have a pretty good blueprint for how to avoid our attacks at this point.
It just seems to me that there’s far too much chatter taking place in the government, the military, and a media system which can’t even envision exercising any restraint in the name of national security. It seems like an alien culture to us now, but the media knew about the D-Day invasion as it was happening but they didn’t report on it until the Germans were already blaring it all over the radio. Today the global action requiring secrecy is vastly expanded, but nothing seems to stay secret for very long. And that’s got to be causing problems.
Let’s say I’m Abdullah bin Rashidi, on the run from the US military, and I show up in Damascus. If I’m heading through the the central square and I see a young woman on television saying that I’ve been spotted crossing into Syria and the hunt is on, I’m probably going to be getting the heck out of Dodge. We can expand that to the meta level and the way we announce our grand plans and long term strategy to the world. Why did the President keep announcing when and how he was going to be leaving Afghanistan? Don’t you suppose that somebody in the various terrorist groups over there has access to CNN International? And wouldn’t that sort of information be pretty helpful to their long range plans?
There are too many people inside the administration and in the military who are too quick to speak on background to reporters. And the press, never wanting to miss an opportunity to be first out of the gate, runs each and every tidbit they can find. I’m not saying this information isn’t of interest to the public, but we shouldn’t have that much of a problem with waiting until after the fact to find out about it. Sensitive information like this should be revealed to select members of Congress by the President to ensure proper oversight, but bragging about it to Wolf Blitzer carries a high price which isn’t worth getting your name in the paper for a few days or scoring political points to make it look like your “strategy” is working.