1 Questions about Wikileaks from Sanlian Lifeweek Magazine in Beijing Answered by David Shinn Adjunct Professor, Elliott School

of International Affairs George Washington University 3 December 2010

Sanlian Lifeweek: During your long career as a professional diplomat, how do you see the way embassies communicate with Washington and the way the State Department and Department of Defense communicate with the media on foreign affairs? Do you think there are any differences from the past when media reports from the frontline in Vietnam changed public opinion on the war, when Watergate reports brought down Richard Nixon and when Clinton¶s secret Somalia operation was jeopardized by disclosure? Shinn: My Foreign Service career, mostly in Africa, spanned 37 years from 1964 through 2000. I will respond to the question on the internal government communication system in a subsequent question and focus here on the way the U.S. government communicates with the public and the media. The United States has always put a premium on maximizing communication with the public and the media. There are, of course, internal communications that are not available to the public although most of these documents are declassified, depending on their sensitivity, after the passage of a certain number of years. This openness has generally served the United States well. The government usually communicates with the public and media by means of press releases, publication of background information, release of public documents, press conferences by senior officials and background briefings where the official is not identified. Historically, there have been occasional leaks such as the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam period. This system has not changed significantly since the end of World War II. The availability of information about world events has increased exponentially and becomes accessible to the pubic much faster as a result of the internet and global media outlets such as CNN and Aljazeera. It was my experience before leaving government in 2000 that a large amount of the information transmitted in classified U.S. government cables was also available to the public on the internet or through journalistic sources. You just have to know where to find it and how to research it. The media today influences public opinion in the United States much as it did during Vietnam and the Watergate era. You asked about the impact of the media on ³Clinton¶s secret Somalia operation.´ I was the State Department deputy task force director for Somalia when President George H.W. Bush sent U.S. troops to Somalia late in 1992 and then became State Department

2 coordinator for Somalia early in 1993 after President Bill Clinton inherited the humanitarian relief effort. There was nothing secret about the operation. Once it became a manhunt for Mohamed Farah Aideed, however, there were a series of missteps that led to media and Congressional pressure to get the United States out of Somalia. This decision had nothing to do with secrecy. Sanlian Lifeweek: The first classified documents leaked by Wikileaks in December 2006 and August 2007 were actually about Somali and Kenyan domestic politics. Did you notice those leaks at that time? What do you think about these leaks? Though these first leaks did not attract worldwide attention to Wikileaks itself, do you think these documents were significant for diplomats in Somalia and Kenya, for intelligence agencies active in Africa and did they have any impact on domestic politics? Shinn: In 2006, Wikileaks released a document allegedly authored by Somali Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, now the head of the extremist organization known as Hizbul Islam that discussed the assassination of government officials in Somalia. There was never any verification of the authenticity of the document. It received very little attention in the media and had no impact on diplomats in Kenya. At the time, there were virtually no diplomats in Somalia. It had no impact on domestic politics in the United States and apparently very little in Somalia. In 2007, Wikileaks published a secret 110-page report apparently written in 2004 by the international risk consultancy company, Kroll Associates, on corruption in Kenya. This leak received brief attention in the Kenyan press and limited coverage in the international press. For example, The Guardian in the UK and the International Herald Tribune ran stores based on the leak. I don¶t believe release of these documents had any lasting impact in the region and they had a minimal impact outside the region. Sanlian Lifeweek: It is reported that most of the classified documents come from SIPRNET, a security network for the State Department and Department of Defense. Wikileaks is the first ever organization to openly challenge SIPRNET¶s protocol. How do you see the challenges of intelligence operations and communications among America¶s huge bureaucracy at home and abroad? Could you explain to us based on your own professional experiences? Shinn: First let me say a few words about SIPRNET, the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network of the Department of Defense. It is the Defense Department¶s largest network for the exchange of classified information and messages at the secret level and below. It does not include top secret and most special-captioned cable traffic. It supports the Global Command and Control System, the Defense Message System and numerous other classified applications. It is the classified counterpart of the Defense Department¶s Unclassified but Sensitive Internet Protocol Router Network referred to as NIPRNET. (Lest you think I am leaking classified data, all of this information is available on the internet in unclassified documents.)

3 State Department officers transmit their reporting in the SIPRNET system by giving the cables a caption called SIPDIS, which you will see on many of the cables now available on the Wikileaks web site. SIPDIS is intended for use only on those messages deemed appropriate for sharing with other government agencies and automatically enters them into the SIPRNET system. They commonly include cables that contain general political and economic reports, summaries of conversations with foreign officials, analytical pieces and policy instructions from Washington. The agencies of the United States government have always tended to share information widely up to the secret level. This means that tens of thousands of personnel with appropriate security clearances could theoretically read any particular cable. In fact, no individual could possibly read all of the incoming cable traffic from American missions overseas on any given day. The practice is to read only those cables that impact a person¶s professional responsibilities. The addition of the SIPDIS caption expanded the distribution significantly. It is my understanding this was a reaction to a tendency to compartmentalize information within U.S. governmental bureaucracies prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States when certain information concerning potential terrorists was not reaching all appropriate agencies. Even if there is a return to more restrictive cable distribution policies following the Wikileaks disclosures, thousands of personnel with security clearances will still have access to these cables. It only takes one misguided individual to violate the law and cause considerable damage to U.S. foreign policy. That is apparently what happened with the recent compromise of some 250,000 State Department cables. The State Department has reportedly already made a decision to limit the amount of its reporting that enters the SIPRNET system. There are numerous other State Department captions, such as STADIS that confines distribution within the State Department, which will probably be used more frequently. This will continue until there is some major foreign policy snafu caused by a failure to distribute cable traffic more widely to other agencies or even to offices within the State Department. Then there will be another reassessment of the issue. Basically, the integrity of the system depends on 100 percent compliance by persons with a security clearance to abide by the rules and laws of the U.S. government. The foreign affairs bureaucracy should be prudent concerning distribution within the government of classified material. Persons who break the law, at least in cases as egregious as the one we are discussing, should also be punished to the maximum extent permitted by U.S. law. Sanlian Lifeweek: After 9/11, the U.S. government witnessed big intelligence reforms. More people could share intelligence on a broader platform. How do you see these reforms? Do you think they are effective or redundant or risky? Could you tell us how you have been part of the reform and how it changed the way you work? Shinn: I believe the principle of wider sharing of information within the U.S. government is a good idea. Generally, this should continue. State Department personnel who write cables

4 probably need to rethink which ones they put in the SIPRNET system with the goal of reducing distribution of traffic that is not essential for the Department of Defense or other agencies. But this is not a solution to the problem of leaking unauthorized information. It only takes one malcontent, and that person could be working anywhere in the U.S. government. What I find inexplicable is how a single person could download 250,000 cables dating back to 1966. There must be a technical way to prevent this kind of wholesale abuse in the future. I left government service in 2000, a year before 9/11. As a result, I had no involvement with the post 9/11 changes for handling classified information, and they did not impact my time in the Department of State. Sanlian Lifeweek: In the past, we have seen checks and balances, as well as tensions, between the U.S. government and the media. The media have wide and direct contact in Washington and they sometimes release information that does not appeal to the government or sometimes are pressured by the government to refrain from reporting something. But in the case of Wikileaks, we have seen a different relationship. Wikileaks has become the platform for information resources (no longer through social contact circles). The media sponsor Wikileaks and publish stories based on information from Wikileaks. How do you think this can happen? Some analysts say the Department of Defense and State Department provide the media with information they want them to tell, especially concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do you think the media and public are more ignorant about diplomacy these days? Shinn: The relationship between Wikileaks and the mainstream American media is a delicate one. Access to so many classified cables is clearly a huge opportunity for the media, which is struggling to make a profit. At the same time, the vast majority of the American media is responsible and does not want to harm American security. It is my understanding that Wikileaks offered to turn over access to the leaked cables to both CNN and the The Wall Street Journal. For whatever reason, they turned them down. Wikileaks did not offer them to the New York Times, which obtained access through a British paper that did receive them. The New York Times has been careful in its reporting of certain cables to omit names and sensitive information that might jeopardize lives. Each news outlet must balance its goal to impart information with an effort to avoid damage to U.S. security and foreign policy. The news organizations do not always get it right. If the issue concerns only a few documents, the problem is usually manageable and the damage short-lived. When 250,000 documents are dribbled out over time, the problem is not manageable and the harm potentially huge. The U.S. government and other governments routinely provide the media with information that they believe support their policies. This is normal; no government will knowingly provide information to the public that makes it look bad. It is the job of the media to get behind the scenes. In an open society such as the United States, the media have been highly successful in

5 reporting issues that governmental authorities would prefer not be published. When the press reports on corruption, policy mistakes and new initiatives that the public should know about, it provides an important service. The media can also put foreign policy issues in context more effectively than the government can do. In my view, the American media and public are better informed about diplomacy today. This is one of the strengths of the American system. The unauthorized release of 250,000 cables, about half of which are classified, severely strains, however, this system.