The Blog

Obama Accepts False Choice on Intelligence

4:53 PM, May 12, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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For the second time in two days we write in praise of Barack Obama. Yesterday he took the necessary step of replacing his commander in Afghanistan ahead of schedule in an attempt to regain the initiative in that war. Today we learn that the Obama administration sent a letter to the British government threatening to curtail intelligence sharing unless details about the rendition and interrogation of Binyam Mohamed remain classified. Eli Lake reports:

A court filing from the British Foreign Office released recently includes a letter from the U.S. government, identified as the "Obama administration's communication." Other information identifying the U.S. agency and author of the letter appears to have been redacted.

The letter says:

"If it is determined that [her majesty's government] is unable to protect information we provide to it, even if that inability is caused by your judicial system, we will necessarily have to review with the greatest care the sensitivity of information we can provide in the future."

Glenn Greenwald prints additional excerpts from the letter. The letter also states that, "...if foreign partners learn that information it has provided is publicly disclosed, these foreign partners could take steps to withhold from the United Kingdom sensitive information that could be important to its safety and security."

Greenwald translates: "In other words: if you let your courts describe how we tortured Mohamed -- even if your laws compel such disclosure -- we may purposely leave your citizens vulnerable to future terrorist attacks by withholding information we obtain about terrorist plots." Right, but only information obtained through controversial methods -- extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogations -- is at issue here. Surely no one is suggesting that the British would reveal information about by-the-book, Geneva-approved detentions and interrogations.

Instead, the concern is that controversial methods may provide valuable information that will no longer be made available to the British government if those sources and methods are not kept secret. So is this a tacit admission by the Obama administration that it is precisely these methods which have produced "sensitive information that could be important to [Britain's] safety and security"? If not, what exactly are they worried the British might disclose in the future?