Screen Shot 2023-04-16 at 10.22.09 PM.png

To Leak or Not to Leak?

The recent security breach by a young idiot video-gamer out to impress his friends was worse than you think. It could end up being one of the worst security breaches in the history of US intelligence operations.

It should never have happened. It’s crazy that anybody in the US government would consider giving a top-secret clearance to a naïve, unqualified kid in the National Guard. The real damage has yet to be fully known, but it’s already clear that US intelligence services are the laughingstock of their counterparts around the planet, friend and foe. As well they should be.

In the 70s, in the middle of the Cold War, as a US Foreign Service Officer, I was a member of NATO’s top secret Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), charged with planning how a nuclear war might be waged—and “won”­—in Europe. It was a very prestigious job and a steppingstone to higher rank. I was given a Top-Secret Umbra clearance—plus a clearance above that that allowed me to spend a week at a secret facility in New Mexico learning about specific nuclear weapon designs. The idea was to learn how to target the right weapon to the right target (maximize blast in order to knock down buildings; maximize radiation to kill people).

NPG security clearances were so secret we weren't allowed to tell anyone that we even had them. Even a minor leak of nuclear plans could result in jail time, not to speak of the end of a career.

None of us in the NPG had the guts to expose the madness, which included thinking that a nuclear exchange in Europe would not end up incinerating the planet. It wasn’t just the penalties; the job was just too seductive, too exciting, too prestigious... And yes, the NPG was an all-male club; planning nuclear war was considered too steel-edged a job for women. In truth, I think that most women, put into that job, would be appalled at the levels of testosterone-fueled madness that sustained it.

So I definitely don’t think all leaks are bad. Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers helped shorten an unjust and unwinnable war. The leaking of secrets by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did far more good than harm. I myself offered secret files from Vietnam to the Washington Post that confirmed what Ellsberg had exposed. And at the United Nations, I shared secrets with African counterparts in the Security Council that they then used to embarrass the US government into stiffening its opposition to the (then) racist regime in South Africa.

But the breach exposed last week was not a principled attempt to thwart bad policy. Not even close. It was just some stupid kid trying to impress his friends. And all he needed was a loosey-goosey security protocol and a modest facility with online gaming and chats. Anyone involved in allowing this to happen should be found and fired.