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February 11, 2007

Why so secretive?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The LAT reports that

U.S. defense and intelligence officials today rolled out what they said was solid evidence that Iran was providing bombs to target U.S. and Iraqi troops and accused Iran's supreme leader of orchestrating the smuggling of such devices over the Iran-Iraq border. At a briefing held under unusually secretive conditions here, the U.S. officials, who refused to be identified by name and did not allow cameras or recording devices inside a conference room, offered up tables laden with hardware and a slide show of documentation that they said bolstered the U.S. contentions of Iranian involvement in Iraqi unrest.

Why the secrecy?



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Well, I assume the official answer is that the intelligence agents involved in the briefing are involved in the collection as well as the analysis of the intelligence, and need to shield their identities. Or else the officials did not want to risk transporting the materials, and therefore wanted to keep them on site at whatever intelligence analysis location houses them.

Another possibility is that the briefers want to restrict the direct viewing of the material to a handful of reliable mainstream reporters, and not have the images blasted all over the internet, where a bunch of clever bloggers with plenty of time on their hands could rip it apart.

Another possibility is that suffusing some information with an aura of secrecy - by printing "top secret" all over it, or by taking the reporters on a dramatic, high security mystery ride down into some super-secret bat cave - tends to heighten the reporter's sense of specialness, danger and privilege, stroke their vanity and develop solidarity with their guide. The discomfort and insecurity of a loss of control, and the experience of not knowing where you are going and what is happening next, can produce a mini Stockholm syndrome-like identification of the reporter with their liaison "captor". It's another way of embedding them and controlling the message.

Suppose one person views an alleged religious relic in a local museum in Italy, and another sees that relic after being taken into some remote, barred basement room in the Vatican. Which person is more likely to buy into the authenticity of the relic? I think the one who was given the full Monty.

Hardware alone proves little. AP recently reported that the Pentagon sold F-14 parts indirectly to Iran.

It's also hard to see how a weapons display could give away sources and methods. Presumably most of these weapons are taken by our soldiers during sweeps, not by CIA spooks.

Suppose it's true. Why would anybody but US citizens care?

Specifically, why would russians care? We admitted to doing exactly the same thing to them in afghanistan. We were proud of it. Isn't that just how the game is played?

Would the russians agree that this is something that justifies the USA invading iran?

For it to matter to somebody who wasn't american, they'd have to start out with the idea that it's OK for us to arm the iraqis we like but it isn't OK for iranians to arm the iraqis they like. You'd have to figure that the US efforts in iraq have some sort of legitimacy.

Would americans support a war against iran? I doubt it, I tend to think it would result in Congress taking whatever excuse they could dredge up quick for impeachment. But it would split the country worse than 1812. Regardless of evidence, people would choose what they wanted to believe and tend to come down solidly on one side or another.

On the other hand, this would give us a good excuse why we're losing. And it would give us a lot of sentiment in favor of attacking iran later, when something else comes up.

We couldn't bring democracy to iraq because the evil undemocratic iranians stopped us. We'll get them later.

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