Did you know the U.S. government is sharing its secrets?
In the sweltering heat of an Islamabad summer, two Americans visit the bustling Pakistani capital. One is National Security Adviser James L. Jones, the other CIA Director Leon E. Panetta.
They hand over a thick dossier on would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, detailing his links with the Tehrik-e-Taliban, the TTP. They also deliver a warning: Crack down on the Pakistani Taliban or else.
Stateside, senior U.S. military officials review options for major retaliatory strikes against the TTP, should it successfully attack an American city. Their contingency plans call for assaults against Taliban and al-Qaida forces inside Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Department of Homeland Security officials conclude that attempted terror attacks against the United States are on the rise, and more are on the way.
This information should be among the deepest secrets in Washington, D.C. So why do we know about it?
We read it, on the front pages of The Washington Post and elsewhere. And it didn’t take investigative reporting to spill the beans. U.S. officials just voluntarily revealed highly sensitive intelligence about our counterterrorism programs.
Governments of free nations ought to have as few secrets as possible. But democracy is not a suicide pact. There are legitimate secrets. We don’t want our enemies reading Google news alerts that detail our ongoing operations, investigations and contingency plans.
Perhaps Washington wanted to send the Pakistanis a message. But Jones and Panetta did that when dropping off the file in Islamabad. Or, maybe the revelations were an act of exasperation. In either case, making the message public only shows how ineptly the White House has pressured the Pakistanis to do the right thing.
There can only be one reason why Pakistan has not gone all-out after the Pakistani Taliban: They still think the pain is not worth the gain. Pakistan is planning for life after the Americans leave Afghanistan, and the Taliban remains.
By setting a specific timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has elevated the likelihood of this scenario in the minds of Pakistan’s contingency planners. They view the deadline as a sign that the U.S. commitment to prevailing in Afghanistan is equivocal. Both the Taliban and al-Qaida interpret it to mean the administration is already war-weary.
Pakistani Taliban support for direct attacks on our homeland may signal a strategic shift in its thinking. Perhaps it now believes a successful attack here will ensure a U.S. retreat there. Or, perhaps it simply wants to retaliate for the devastating drone strikes on its bases. Either way, two near-misses (in Detroit and New York) by two complete amateurs may fuel its belief that hitting the homeland is at least worth another try.
From their perspective, the worst fallout they’d see would be some desultory bombing and commando raids from the U.S. These attacks would not likely be decisive. (After all, if the Pentagon knew where a critical target was, that target would already have been hit.)
Moreover, major strikes on Pakistan soil would inflame both Pakistani and world opinion. When the dust cleared, the Taliban and al-Qaida would live to fight another day — a victory as far as they are concerned. Meanwhile, after the bombing, Obama would return to his timetable, and the Afghan Taliban would still hold the field in Afghanistan.
To throw some fear into the enemy and the Pakistanis, Obama should, at the very least, publicly state that any “attempted” attack on America will lead Washington to adjure any timeline for withdrawal.
In time of war, government should communicate meaningful threats — not sensitive intel — to our enemies.
Examiner columnist James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation.