A Presidential Kill List, the use of cyber-attacks to stall foreign nuclear development, and attacking enemies by using the most advanced military tactics and instruments in the world may sound like the description of a blockbuster action film. It isn’t. In reality, each of these stories represents a military or intelligence leak, which has been reported by national and global media outlets.
The truth is that uncontrolled leaks of this nature pose a danger to national security.
“It could destroy our ability to conduct foreign policy,” said former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to President Nixon after Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers. He then added, “If other powers feel we cannot control internal leaks they will not agree to secret negotiations.”
While those documents were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg for the purpose of influencing Vietnam policy, Kissinger’s great concern was over the United States’ secret talks with China—a relationship that has helped to determine the balance of power in the world through the Cold War and to today.
So, one must ask the question, how do these most recent leaks affect the United States ability to engage in effective diplomacy overseas? Do these leaks endanger the potential future diplomatic solutions to be reached with Syria or Iran? What about North Korea?
Leaks, whether military or intelligence, are nothing new and do not always have detrimental consequences. According to NPR, some leaks are strategic, and forethought, allowing the government to take control of the narrative of a developing story, such as the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden.
The leaks mentioned above, however, do not fall into this category. They are not being controlled by the government, nor do they seem to pose any greater strategic purpose. The motivation for them fall into one of two general categories: one that attempts to force a change in policy, or one that emboldens ego of the leaker, whose feeling of importance is measured by the amount of media coverage he or she attracts.
The threat of unintended consequences is too great to allow for leaks to continue. Just as Ellsberg’s actions jeopardized relations with China, these recent leaks under the Obama administration’s purview will also have consequences, and, unfortunately the severity of those consequences will only be judged by history.
Ian Delzer is a Research Assistanrt at the Richard Nixon Foundation.