Not So Secret After All?

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Maybe I am imagining things, but in recent days, I have noticed a spate of articles in the New York Times and elsewhere in which government and military officials are falling all over themselves to spill the beans. On Wednesday, March 24, sources told the paper about plans to hit the Taliban in a new spot:

President Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan, where top Taliban leaders are orchestrating attacks into southern Afghanistan.

According to senior administration officials, two of the high-level reports on Pakistan and Afghanistan that have been forwarded to the White House in recent weeks have called for broadening the target area to include a major insurgent sanctuary in and around the city of Quetta.

The “covert war?” Why notify the Taliban publicly about this? What about all those warnings we’ve heard over the years about how important it is that such military plans remain secret?

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Here’s another one, from March 17, going into tremendous detail about the opportunities and challenges the US government faces in using unmanned drones.

A rare behind-the-scenes look at the use of the Predator shows both the difficulties and the rewards in pushing out weapons more quickly.

“I’ll be really candid,” said Col. Eric Mathewson, who directs the Air Force’s task force on unmanned aerial systems. “We’re on the ragged edge.”

He said the service has been scrambling to train more pilots, who fly the drones via satellite links from the western United States, to keep up with a near-tripling of daily missions in the last two years.

Field commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Air Force is in charge of the Predators, say their ability to linger over an area for hours, streaming instant video warnings of insurgent activity, has been crucial to reducing threats from roadside bombs and identifying terrorist compounds. The C.I.A. is in charge of drone flights in Pakistan, where more than three dozen missiles strikes have been launched against Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in recent months.

The article goes on to provide abundant particulars of the sort I don’t recall seeing in the past. A third such article talked about the need for new supply routes into Afghanistan, and went into great detail about the efforts to persuade various allies to cooperate. And these are just a few examples from many.

What is going on? Obviously, a conscious decision has been made to use the media for public relations and perhaps strategic purposes. Fine—more disclosure, if it is accurate, is probably a good thing. But then why, again, have we been consistently told that disclosure helps the enemy? If these kinds of stories can come out in real time without harming “national security,” then was the previous obsession with secrecy a lot of hooey designed to cover posteriors rather than protect the American public?

Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

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