Not needles in haystacks

Contra the Dish’s series “Didn’t we know this already?”, Yaacov isn’t so pollyannish:

I’ve been looking through some of the Wikileak documents from Afghanistan, and I’m sick to the stomach. Unless the various Islamist forces which face humankind are all total idiots without Internet connections and with no ability to read English, these documents will get people killed. No ifs, buts, or any other comfortable lies with which to hide grim reality. Publishing this type of internal military documents and in such quantities, at a time of war, must harm the side whose innards have thus been exposed. It cannot be otherwise.


My personal experience with military-intelligence documentation has been limited to two very different cases. The first was in the 1970s, when at two different moments, one in my regular military service and one early in my reserve duty career, I was sat down on hills and told to observe the Arab country on the other side of the fence. (The earlier case was Lebanon, the latter was Jordan). We were given sheets of paper on which to record boring minutiae. Mind-numbing minutiae, actually, so of course we kvetched. In both cases someone mildly better in the know took us to task, going so far as to demonstrate why our intelligence services needed to know if it had been one uniformed policeman in that village or two, and how often they had come by. It dawned on me at the time that if one had a large enough collection of banal, innocuous and uninteresting data, one might find all sorts of important patterns in them. This was an entire generation before it became fashionable to talk about data-mining, pattern matching and all those things that make Wallmart so good at what it does.

The second, very different encounter, was when I was doing research about the SS and it’s Nazi accomplices and collaborators, and I spent a few years poring over the slips of paper the bureaucrats sent back and forth with nary the expectation that I’d ever see them. Some of my fellow researchers and I had the time and patience to read the documents carefully and with a growing understanding of the world they were emanating from, and this enabled us to know not only who was doing what, but what different players would be likely to say – indeed, think – when confronted with some new situation.

So when I glance at a report such as this one, from 19 January 2009, even though I’ve never in my life seen this particular sort of document, I immediately take note that whoever’s doing the reporting is gauging importance of participants in the meeting by the size of their security attachment; or that he (?) infers that Saroubi is likely Saroubi district – i.e that he doesn’t know, he’s guessing. Not to mention that the Americans know about the meeting at all: how do they know? Who told them? Which observer needed to gauge importance by retinue?

And that’s one single document, analyzed on the fly by Yaacov who knows nothing from nothing about the context, the identities, the actions, nothing. Might we assume the connivers who managed to topple the WTC buildings might be able to glean actionable knowledge about their foes by spending a month or five carefully sifting through Wikileak’s miraculous trove of operational military documents from an ongoing war?

It doesn’t occur to the Dish that this Wikileaks smorgasbord might create a more imminent risk to American, soldiers’, lives (and their colleagues from other nations) than recent news in the Middle East, the Burqua ban, Norwegian cartoons, etc.

The Dish does, however, second Marc Lynch’s warning that a stray remark about WMD on Wikileaks will be used to advocate for a strike on Iran.