The journalist who holds a cache of documents stolen by National Security Agency secrets leaker Edward Snowden not only disrupts U.S. intelligence but must ultimately take responsibility for any deadly consequences of the leaked information, former CIA analyst and LIGNET contributor Lisa Ruth said Tuesday.
“There is an absolute direct correlation between leaks and problems on the ground,” Ruth said in an exclusive interview with John Bachman on “America’s Forum” on Newsmax TV.
Former Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald should have “months ago” considered withholding the NSA information in light of killings in 2010 of Afghan tribal leaders after the release of military documents by WikiLeaks, she said.
“I understand journalists believe part of their view is to give information, that’s what they’re trying to do,” she said. “With WikiLeaks, when this information first came out, we know that there were Afghan tribal leaders who were beheaded and killed. These were our sources.”
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She said the WikiLeaks release was responsible for “not only disrupting our intelligence sources, but that journalist, in my opinion, is carrying the weight of those deaths on his shoulders, and at some point there is an ethical decision, what’s right.
“Obviously we can’t decide that for [Greenwald], but I agree that there is a point where the damage they are doing is far greater than any benefit,” she said.
Ruth said the intelligence community thinks it’s “absurd” that the public is debating the issue of how the government conducts drone strikes overseas, particularly how the military and CIA often rely on data from the NSA’s electronic spy program for targeted drone strikes and killings.
“I just can’t get my head around why we’re all debating this,” she said. “We don’t throw out for a referendum, ‘OK, folks, should we go after this guy or not?’ This is a government decision.”
According to a report from a news website launched by Greenwald, NSA documents confirm the agency “played a key supporting role” in the drone strike in September 2011 that killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, as well as another American, Samir Khan, in Yemen.
“I have to say that it is horrifying to me that we are talking about this,” she said. “I have to go out and say the fact that this is in the press is completely absurd to the intelligence community — the fact that we’re debating drone strikes.”
She said classified information is paramount “if you’re going to carry out operations.”
“Until yesterday, most Americans didn’t know there was a guy in Pakistan, American citizen, who’s with al-Qaida,” she said. “Did it make them feel more safe to know we’re considering attacking him with a drone? Probably not.
“If you look at overall, it’s about trust in your government, really, trust, and right now perhaps that’s not at its highest peak, and I don’t know how you get that back but in terms of intelligence. I don’t’ believe that’s something that needs to be aired,” she said.
She said the reason the CIA “holds . . . the controls to the drone strikes” is that it can “move quickly.”
“Going through military bureaucracy, as you know, takes time,” she said. “The reason they put it in the hands of the CIA was to get things done quickly . . . So, now we’re in a situation where we’re talking about this American, and again, all over the press, all over the news, and whether NSA information is going to be used. From a CIA officer standpoint, that’s only one piece we would use . . . you need a lot of other pieces of information to target in.”
Ruth noted the United States is not getting the “human intelligence” it used to, partly “because of the drones” and partly because of “the way intelligence is done, and cutbacks.”
“The idea that, oh, we can put a bug somewhere or we can use a listening device. That’s not really accurate,” she said.
“Without human intelligence in many cases we’re operating blind, and keep in mind, if I’m hearing something perhaps from a cellphone or other places, I have no way of knowing how accurate that is . . . as a human, I can sit across from you, I’m evaluating you, I’m spotting, I’m assessing, I’m making these decisions, and it usually provides more targeted information, in conjunction with NSA information, of course.”
Ruth said she hopes debate on the issue spurs change for the good.
“From my perspective and some of my contacts at the intelligence community, the hope is to get back on track . . . and that these kinds of debates can really highlight the importance of human intelligence and why we need that, and particularly with a terrorist threat,” she said.
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