Thursday, May 25, 2017

Intel Sharing Basics

I am not an intel person--I have excellent colleagues who are: Stephanie Carvin, Alex Wilner and Jeremy Littlewood.  But I do remember seeing heaps of classified materials and hearing lots of complaining about intel sharing 15 or so years ago during my year in the Pentagon.  So, here's what I remember.

Most countries complained about the US not sharing enough intelligence, not that the US was being too generous with it.  People are most familiar with the basic classification scheme:
  • Classified--broad category of secret stuff
  • Confidential--least restrictive form of classified material.
  • Secret--more restricted than confidential
  • Top Secret--a much narrower category--starting to get into the stuff that, if released, can significantly harm the national interest.  By letting our adversaries know what we know and how we collect it
  • Code-word, compartmentalized. This is need to know stuff--that the only people who are in on a specific operation or information source are those who need to know.  I was cleared for Top Secret but not code word.  I never needed to be read into any code word secret stuff.  From what I could figure out, this was really two main categories--special operations and stuff gathered via NSA signals intelligence.
Documents of all classifications (well, all those that I saw) could come with other markers:
  • NOFORN: that the information is not to be shared with any foreign actors, even the most trusted.  Stuff on terrorism might go here.
  • UKONLY (or something like that): info could be shared only with UK.  I assume there is a FIVEEYES label for sharing with only UK/Canada/Australia/NZ, but I didn't see any of that. Probably because I was on the Balkans desk, which meant that the next classification was
  • NATOONLY (or something like that): information that could go out to NATO allies.  Yes, this system means that there is stuff the US didn't share with anyone, some it shared with the UK but not the rest of NATO and some they shared with NATO members.
  • SFOR or KFOR ONLY: information that would go out to all countries participating in the NATO-led mission, including non-NATO countries like Sweden, Finland, and ..... Russia.  Not a whole lot of super-secret stuff under this label.
Trump has now taught American allies that the US can't be trusted.  It has always been the case that countries had to worry about sharing intel with countries who might be penetrated by spies.  Nobody has avoided that problem--not the US with Aldrich Ames and one of the Hansen brothers, not the UK with Kim Philby and the others, not Canada with its own spy problems, etc (actually, I have no idea about Australia and New Zealand).  Not to mention Snowden, Manning, etc.  But that is different from the leaks during into a raging river of secrets going directly from the President to the primary adversary and now the Manchester leaks.

So, countries are, predictably, reacting, by sharing less.  Which means that more puzzles will have missing pieces, which increases the likelihood that an attack is not prevented.  Trump's big mouth and the leaks pouring out of the intel community are going to do real damage.  Yet more unforced errors, something that this government does so very well.

No comments: