December 23, 2010

Wikileaks and U.S. National Security

Despite many people, including the Secretary of Defense saying the impact of the leaks are minimal, and many of the leaks turning out to be things we already know (including one UNCLASSIFIED commentary about Canadian views of the US), and one (ex-National Security Council member) Columbia University professor even mandating International Relations students view the original documents, I don't see how anybody can honestly defend leaks like this, which made public a list of overseas facilities that are crucial to U.S. national security. The unfortunate fact is that these leaks can't be undone, but that doesn't mean they should be taken as uncritically 'good' for free speech or freedom of the press. Some things really should be kept secret. From the L.A. Times:

U.S. denounces WikiLeaks' release of list of crucial overseas facilities

Making the list public has threatened national security, officials say. Named are vaccine makers, undersea communications cables and mines that supply key metals.

By Andrew Zajac, Los Angeles Times
December 7, 2010
Reporting from Washington
U.S. officials on Monday denounced a WikiLeaks posting that catalogs hundreds of crucial overseas facilities that, if attacked by terrorists, could harm American interests — including vaccine makers, undersea communications cables and mines that supply key metals.

Officials said the Internet posting of the list — compiled by the Department of Homeland Security with the assistance of the State Department and other government departments — threatens national security.

The scope of the list, and the wide range of facilities that have potential national security implications, also highlights the U.S. dependence on foreign suppliers, and the near-impossibility of making the country fully immune from the consequences of a terrorist attack.

America's reliance on foreign vaccine makers appears to be a particular vulnerability, according to Randall Larsen, an advisor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Biosecurity.

"Would we rely on the Chinese or the Brazilians to make our next-generation fighter jet?" Larsen asked. "In the 21st century, that capability to produce vaccines is just as important as the ability to produce our own fighter jets."

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on Monday condemned the disclosure, saying it contained information that could "jeopardize our national security."

U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said America's espionage act is just one of the laws the U.S. could use to prosecute those involved in the WikiLeaks releases. He declined to say which others might come into play. Possibilities include charges such as the theft of government property or receipt of stolen government property.

Also Monday, a lawyer for Julian Assange told reporters in London that he was arranging for the WikiLeaks founder to speak to British police seeking to question him in a sex crimes probe.

The Department of Homeland Security list on overseas sites, known as the Critical Foreign Dependencies Initiative, includes oil and gas pipelines, telecom cables, rare-metal and other mines, military contractors, ocean navigation chokepoints, and such obscure facilities as an Australian laboratory described as the sole supplier of Crotalid Polyvalent Antivenin — an antidote to rattlesnake venom.

The list, "whose loss could critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States," according to the leaked cable that contained it, is maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, which was seeking to update it in February 2009 by getting recommendations from State Department diplomats.

The February 2009 cable instructed diplomats to focus on key energy and telecom links, sites that produced hard-to-get goods or raw materials important to U.S. industry, as well as maritime bottlenecks.

The list includes graphite, tungsten and rare-earth metal mines in China, military components makers in Britain, Germany and Israel, and a Siemens plant in Germany described as responsible for "essentially irreplaceable production of key chemicals."

It also includes many of the world's key ocean passageways, including the straits of Gibraltar, Hormuz and Malacca, the Panama Canal and the landing points of numerous undersea telecom cables crisscrossing the globe, plus oil and gas pipelines, including one in Russia described as "the most critical gas facility in the world."

The list underscores heavy U.S. dependence on foreign pharmaceutical firms, including European producers of vaccines for rabies, whooping cough, flu, typhoid and smallpox.

azajac@latimes.com

Brian Bennett in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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