Last summer, a U.S. Colonel in Baghdad told me that I was America’s enemy, or very close to it. For months, I had been covering the U.S. military’s efforts to deal with the threat of IEDs, improvised explosive devices. And my writing, he told me, was going too far — especially this January 2005 Wired News story, in which I described some of the Pentagon’s more exotic attempts to counter these bombs.
None of the material in the story — the stuff about microwave blasters or radio frequency jammers — was classified, he admitted. Most of it had been taken from open source materials. And many of the systems were years and years from being fielded. But by bundling it all together, I was doing a “world class job of doing the enemy’s research for him, for free.” So watch your step, he said, as I went back to my ride-alongs with the Baghdad Bomb Squad — the American soldiers defusing IEDs in the area.
Today, I hear that the President and the Pentagon’s higher-ups are trotting out the same argument. “News coverage of this topic has provided a rich source of information for the enemy, and we inadvertently contribute to our enemies’ collection efforts through our responses to media interest,” states a draft Defense Department memo, obtained by Inside Defense. “Individual pieces of information, though possibly insignificant taken alone, when aggregated provide robust information about our capabilities and weaknesses.”
In other words, Al Qaeda hasn’t discovered how to Google, yet. Don’t help ’em out.
This was taken to ridiculous extremes yesterday by President Bush, who said:
Earlier this year, a newspaper published details of a new anti-IED technology that was being developed. Within five days of the publication — using details from that article — the enemy had posted instructions for defeating this new technology on the Internet. We cannot let the enemy know how we’re working to defeat him.
Folks, that doesn’t pass the laugh test. This technology, Ionatron’s Joint IED Neutralizer, hasn’t even been shipped to the field — and may never get there. So insurgents are posting instructions on how to beat a device that they’ve never seen? Based on a few, vague paragraphs in the L.A. Times? Yeah, right.
After years of relatively small investments, the U.S. is spending several billion dollars of our public money to try to stop roadside bombs. 40 American soldiers are dying every month, because of these IEDs. The public has a right to know how that money is being spent, and how those soldiers are being protected. Period. And this attempt to demonize the media for handmade bombs is just a way to keep folks from asking why more wasn’t done sooner to deal with the IED threat.
Does that mean there shouldn’t be any secrets in the anti-IED world? Of course not. Operational specifics about key counter-bomb technologies and tactics should be tightly held; otherwise, soldiers can get killed. That’s why I kept such details out of my Baghdad Bomb Squad story. That’s why David Axe has done the same on his many Iraq trips.
But there’s a huge difference between disclosing key details, and not allowing any information out whatsoever about the Iraq war’s most important fight. Now, who’s the one crossing the line?