Sunday, February 28, 2010

On the difficulty of keeping secrets, continued

Robert Baer, a former CIA field agent, discusses (in, the Wall Street Journal's digital edition) the problem technology poses for secret-keeping in the context of the Jan. 20, 2010 killing of a "Hamas military leader" in Dubai. This killing, widely attributed to Mossad, Israel's secret service, at first looked slick and now looks almost amateurish, so extensive was the digital foot-print left behind, on cellphones and cameras, by the killers. The same problem, Baer notes, led to the Italian authorities' identification (and successful prosecution) of CIA agents for their role in the rendition of an "Egyptian cleric" from Italian soil to Egypt in 2003.

Baer notes that the Predator drone strikes in Pakistan are more discrete, because they are more shrouded by "the fog of war." Perhaps. But while there may be few databases being compiled in the areas where the Predator missiles land, there must be a huge amount of data flowing to computers back in the US, where the firing decisions reportedly are made. Is this digital stream being deleted as soon as it arrives? That would seem to be a rash step, since there may be information to be gleaned from it in after-the-fact reviews. If so, then this information has been stored somewhere. Digital information may or may not yearn to be free, but it does seem to have nine lives. So ultimately the fog of war may lift considerably on the details of the Predator program as well.

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