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Wartime Security Breach of Afghan War Files Concerns Senators

July 27, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Jim Lehrer speaks with Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Republican Kit Bond of Missouri about national security concerns about WikiLeaks publishing sensitive information about the Afghan war and potentially helping enemies.
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JIM LEHRER: And we get the reactions of two United States senators. Missouri Republican Kit Bond is vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senators, welcome.

Senator Senator Reed first.

Do you agree with President Obama that these documents didn’t reveal anything that wasn’t already part of the debate about Afghanistan?

SEN. JACK REED,(D-R.I.): They did not reveal any new revelations.

We have known for a long time that there was corruption in Afghanistan, that there was the issue of collateral civilian casualties. We also understood that there was an ambiguous relationship between the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, and some of our opponents in Afghanistan.

It did not reveal anything that was not known and responded to by the president in his policy announced at West Point last fall.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Bond, do you agree with that?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND,(R-Mo.): Yes, I do.

Frankly, we had been following what went on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in the fall of 2008, my minority staff on the Intelligence Committee drafted a 12-page document saying we needed a new plan. And we submitted it to the president-elect, the secretary of defense.

And we’re very pleased that General Petraeus, Secretary Gates and President Obama adopted a very similar plan, because we knew we had to change what was going on. When we drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan, we relied on NATO.

Unfortunately, the NATO partners were not sufficiently organized and directed to maintain security there, and the situation had deteriorated. That’s why we needed a new strategy, the new troops that President Obama committed, and two good generals. General Petraeus has now taken over. And we have seen he has been very successful in Iraq, and we believe he must be in Afghanistan.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Reed, the substance aside then, what did you think what do you think of this huge release of these documents?

SEN. JACK REED: Well, first, I think we have to visit vigorously investigate the source, because it represents a breach. And particularly if the source is an active-duty military person, that undercuts the notion of loyalty, fidelity to and professional standards. So, we have to investigate very vigorously.

JIM LEHRER: And that excuse me. That, of course, is the allegation, is it not, that a 22-year-old U.S. Army soldier, intelligence analyst, gave this stuff to WikiLeaks, and that’s what started all this?

SEN. JACK REED: Well, there’s an allegation that he released a tape about an attack in Iraq, and the investigation now is whether it went much further.

But the suggestion that American military personnel would be leaking this goes to the issue of the appropriate military standards that we have to insist upon. So, this investigation has to be very serious.

The other aspect of this and Senator Kerry alluded to it is, this is raw intelligence. These are impressionistic documents. Some of them, the authors themselves will say it’s just their view. It may not be as accurate as they would even wish.

And just the simple release of all of this documentation doesn’t give a full, complete and picture of what’s going on. It gives snapshots, and so that itself is disturbing.

But, again, I don’t think there’s anything here that was not known, not discussed and not based and not a subject of the review by the president last year.

JIM LEHRER: Now, Senator Bond, you said at this at the senator I mean, at the General Mattis hearing that this was an act of irresponsibility to release this. I assume that you hold to that, right?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND: Well, I wasn’t on the General Mattis’ hearing. That’s the Armed Services Committee. That’s probably John McCain.

JIM LEHRER: Oh, I’m sorry. My notes are wrong here. OK.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND: So, as far as it’s gone, I agree with what’s been said.

It is absolutely astounding, very troubling that somebody in the Pentagon, during a time of war, would would make the effort to gather and release 90,000-plus documents. I think this calls into question the general seems to be parlor game mentality in too much of Washington that it’s a risk-free effort to leak sensitive documents.

There is one NSA employee who’s being prosecuted, but we need to see a lot more people in orange jumpsuits, because these leaks can significantly imperil our troops in the field, our allies, and harm our national security. That’s what the 911 Commission said.

And when I interviewed General Mike Hayden several years ago, before his confirmation as director of the CIA, I asked him at that time about the leak of information, including the president’s terrorist surveillance program. And he shook his head and said, now we’re only catching the dumb terrorists.

When we start leaking sensitive and particularly top-secret and classified highly classified information, we give our enemies all the tools they need, and we send a message to our allies that we can’t be trusted with their secrets, so they’re less likely to share with us, which is a disaster all the way around.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Reed, you mentioned Senator Kerry. And we mentioned this also in Kwame’s setup piece, that Senator Kerry, he said something today, but he said said yesterday, he did say that these documents raise questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Do you agree with that?

SEN. JACK REED: Well, they raise questions in the time period of the documents, which is roughly 2005 to 2009, the end of 2009.

But I just returned from Pakistan, along with and Afghanistan along with Senator Levin, and the policy now is much clearer. The Pakistanis have taken some significant steps to go against the internal enemies of the state of Pakistan, terrorists.

We have to encourage them to go much further. They have also allowed a much more aggressive approach by American Predators and drones which are targeted at key terrorist leaders, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. And that’s something that the president, President Obama, has undertaken with much more much more alacrity than President Bush even.

So, they have made steps, but until they follow through completely, we still are suffering in Afghanistan from some of these terrorist groups. The point we have to make with them and we tried to make is, this not just in our interests, but it’s in their long-run interests.

So, I believe that these revelations might have refocused the debate, provided details, but they have not seriously questioned the strategy that is being undertaken right now. That’s ensuring that we are able to protect the population, but rapidly.

In fact, the president has announced a July 2011 transition point, build up Afghani forces, and cooperate with the regional forces, so that we can focus our efforts longer-term on counterterrorism.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Bond, on that issue, do you think your own views aside and other what Senator Reed said aside, that this the fact of these documents and the big splash that they have made in the on the front pages of newspapers all over the world is going to affect U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, and should it?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND: I don’t think it should affect our policy. As both Senator Reed and I have said, we know that we needed to do more. We had to develop a new strategy. The surge and the new the new strategy brought by General McChrystal and now General Petraeus are absolutely essential.

There’s a lot more we need to do. We need to help build a stronger Afghanistan base. That’s why we have sent our Missouri National Guard and now about eight other National Guards to help them develop a sound agriculture.

But the one point that I am concerned about is, saying that, 2011, we will begin withdrawing, that sends that sends a note to our allies that maybe you ought to be working with the Taliban more closely, because if the United States pulls out without adequate reinforcement to the Afghan and even to the Pakistan troops, we may see the Taliban retake control of Afghanistan and really threaten the government in Pakistan, in which case our national security would be severely impaired.

And saying that there’s going to be a 2011 withdrawal date allows the Taliban, al-Qaida and all the other elements in there to lay long-term plans. They have calendars, too. And if they think they’re going to have a wide-open field in 2011, they will be ready to act if and when we do pull out our troops, if an adequate security base has not been build.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Reed, do you share Senator Bond’s concern about the 2011 date?

SEN. JACK REED: No, I don’t. I think it’s absolutely necessary.

And General Mattis today at the hearing I attended seconded that view, for several reasons. First, it dispels the argument that the Taliban has made that we are another occupying force, just like the Soviets. And that’s not the case at all.

Second, it provides an impetus to the Afghani national army and their police forces to begin to take up their responsibility. Ultimately, this battle has to be won by the Afghanis, not by the United States. And we have seen progress in that regard with respect to Afghani national forces.

When Senator Levin and I were in Kandahar, for the first time, we began to sense that the Afghani national army and national police are in the fight. They’re working together with our forces. We visited a checkpoint to the 2nd 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the national police of Afghanistan working together.

The battalion commander of the 2-508th was very clear about the fact they have an effective relationship, that there’s a mutual trust. That’s something that we didn’t sense and I don’t think that would have been the case if it was not clear to the Afghani authorities that our stay is not indefinite, that we are going to make a transition, not a withdrawal, a transition based on conditions on the ground. That’s going to take place.

And also I think it’s essential to reassure the American people that we have a strategy not to indefinitely commit ourselves to this effort, but to bolster the Afghani forces, to bring them to the point where they can take the fight. And, ultimately, the reality is, it’s they have to fight the fight and win the war, because it’s for the future of Afghanistan.

JIM LEHRER: Well, finally, then, Senator Reed, do you think that these documents are going to shake you mentioned public opinion, American public opinion is going to shake public opinion or change it any way toward the war?

SEN. JACK REED: I don’t think it’s going to fundamentally reshape opinion. I think there are serious questions among the American people.

JIM LEHRER: That we’re already there.

SEN. JACK REED: They’re already there.

But I think the best response to those questions are what the president has done, carefully articulated a new strategy, resource that strategy, and insist that the Afghanis basically and very quickly take up the fight.

JIM LEHRER: A final word, Senator Bond, briefly, that this is a storm over these documents that is going to pass, is that essentially what you’re saying as well?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND: Well, I hope so. And I believe that Senator Reed had a much more nuanced discussion of the quote “transition.”

I think we’re going to want to get out. We have to rely on Afghanistan.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND: But when the president’s close adviser said, no, it’s a hard withdrawal date, that is a red flag and a danger signal, that I wish everybody was more nuanced, as Senator Reed has been.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

Senators, got it. Thank you both very much.

SEN. JACK REED: Thank you.