Secrecy & Leaks

Schmitt and Schmidt on the Impact of Leaks

By Jack Goldsmith
Monday, September 30, 2013, 5:36 PM

Last month I wrote about a “hard-to-justify” leak concerning USG infiltration of the communication channels of senior al Qaeda leaders, and affiliate leaders:

[I]f the story is accurate and not authorized from the top, its publication is very hard to defend.  For this information reveals concretely that the United States had direct access to two vital channels of communication among senior AQ leadership.  The leaks will almost certainly dry up AQ’s use of those channels (and thus of our ability to monitor them).

Today in a story entitled "Qaeda Plot Leak Has Undermined U.S. Intelligence," Eric Schmitt and Michael Schmidt report that the McClatchy story that contained the original leak “has caused more immediate damage to American counterterrorism efforts than the thousands of classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.”  That is indeed an interesting claim.  But more generally I recommend the story, which is a pretty balanced account of the various harms, and difficulties of measuring harms, of various leaks.  It is one of the best stories I have ever seen in a newspaper about the impact of leaks.