How open-source information is increasing the value of declassifying intelligence

How open-source information is increasing the value of declassifying intelligence

The New York Times reports:

A year ago, the United States did something extraordinary — it released previously classified intelligence that exposed Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine.

Last week, Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, made a similar move when he warned China’s top foreign policy official, Wang Yi, against providing weapons to Russia.

In a previous era, the warning might have remained private, at least for some time. But a new intelligence playbook honed just before and during the war in Ukraine has redefined how the United States uses its classified knowledge to undercut Russia and its partners.

The playbook is not just about naming and shaming Russia and its allies; it has become a powerful tool in the United States’ arsenal to try to stymie the Kremlin’s offensive by exposing Russia’s military plans and in aligning support for Kyiv’s war effort in allied capitals.

Ahead of Mr. Blinken’s meeting with Mr. Wang, the United States disclosed to allies intelligence normally held in tight secrecy. It included details about the ammunition and other weaponry China was considering providing Russia. Then Mr. Blinken shared the broad conclusion that China was considering giving military support to Russia publicly.

“For the most part, China has been engaged in providing rhetorical, political, diplomatic support to Russia, but we have information that gives us concern that they are considering providing lethal support to Russia in the war against Ukraine,” Mr. Blinken told ABC News.

“And it was important for me to share very clearly with Wang Yi that this would be a serious problem.”

The disclosure by Mr. Blinken was driven at least in part by the U.S. belief that public warnings and the declassification of additional intelligence about internal Chinese deliberations could still deter Beijing from delivering to Russia weapon systems to aid Moscow’s military campaign.

Some American officials insist that unlike Iran or North Korea — countries whose military support for Russia has been disclosed by U.S. officials — China cares about its international reputation. Because of its trade ties with Europe and the United States, which North Korea and Iran do not have, Beijing may be less willing to risk sanctions over weapon sales.

The effort to declassify intelligence to expose Russia began just over a year ago when the Biden administration was trying to convince some skeptical allies in Europe that Russia was poised to invade Ukraine. The administration’s new intelligence sharing strategy did not stop the Russian invasion, but it succeeded in revealing Russian plans and aligning major Western powers behind measures to isolate Russia economically and diplomatically.

“It’s not a natural thing to share intelligence beyond a handful of our most trusted allies, but we knew that this effort was going to have to be broader and deeper than we had ever done before,” said Jon Finer, the deputy national security adviser.

The shift toward disclosures is driven in part by lessons of the past, and startling technological changes that have made more information about wartime activities accessible than ever before, something intelligence officials say allows them to release more information without endangering secret sources.

The strategy is also, in part, a product of past intelligence failures. Some failures, most infamously over claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, still color how Europeans view American spy agencies two decades later. Those doubts forced the United States and Britain to share more about what they knew about Russian capabilities and intentions to try to stave off European skepticism.

Now, according to some diplomats, when those two allies declassify and release intelligence, it is more readily believed by allies in Europe who were previously uncertain of U.S. and British intelligence on Russia’s war plans. [Continue reading…]

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