It was another century and another U.S. Army, which has undergone many a change for the better since it was the largely conscripted force of the Eisenhower years.
It was the late 1950s, and out in Oklahoma's scrublands around Fort Sill, a G-2 officer was critiquing one of our field exercises, trying to teach us ROTC cadets some of the rudiments of military intelligence (yes, I know, some say that's an oxymoron) and maybe even just a little plain intelligence.
What he'd done was police the area after our artillery unit had used it as a firing base. He'd picked up some of the trash we'd overlooked -- scraps of paper, a hometown newspaper, half-written letters home, and even a field manual we'd left behind ("Notes for the Battery Executive").
He went through each one, pointing out that even what looked like an innocuous note might yield important information -- like the time and place of the mission, the size of the force, its composition, equipment, leadership, morale ... you name it.
Gentle Reader can just imagine the treasure trove of information -- I certainly can -- now available to this country's enemies in the estimated 92,000 classified documents that Wikileaks has just released.
Julian Assange, an Australian who identifies himself as Wikileaks' "editor-in-chief," pops up in London from time to time to propagandize. He might like to compare this document dump to the celebrated Pentagon Papers case back in the Vietnam Years. (The other day, he was posing in front of a picture from the Vietnam War.) But the release of that secret history of the war didn't tell the American public anything new, nor did it contain anything that directly threatened national security, however much it might have done to undermine public support for the war.
In contrast, there's no telling how many names, places, dates and disclosures are hidden in this pile of paper that's just hit the fan. Though you can bet our enemies will be poring over it. So will any and all kinds of snoops who have an interest in how American forces operate -- and not with an eye to helping them.To quote a former CIA director, Michael Hayden, "If I had gotten this trove on the Taliban or al-Qaida, I would have called this priceless. ... If I'm head of the Russian intelligence, I'm getting my best English speakers and saying: 'Read every document, and I want you to tell me, how good are these guys? What are their approaches, their strengths, their weaknesses and their blind spots.' "
The Pentagon isn't underestimating the danger posed by this gusher of a leak. The lowly Pfc. suspected of transferring all this computerized data to Wikileaks has been charged with revealing classified information and, unlike all these documents, has been locked up securely.
At last count, 80 going on 125 intelligence experts were sifting through this mountain of military intelligence in an attempt to sort out which snippets might endanger our troops, allies or the Afghans who've cooperated with them. And taking steps to control the damage.
Nor is the release of all this data -- raw and refined, including gossip, hearsay and miscellaneous info -- going to make relations with our Pakistani allies/adversaries any easier. There's a lot of criticism of the Pakistanis in this deluge of data, much of it probably deserved, about their ties with the Taliban.
Nor is such a massive intelligence leak likely to encourage other countries to cooperate with us, lest their secrets be revealed by some Pfc with a connection to the World Wide Web. Who would trust the Americans after this?
Or as Michael Mullen, the admiral who's now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointed out: "Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his sources are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier, or that of an Afghan family."
Here's hoping the Wikileaks story will prove only a one-week wonder, and that the sheer amount of the military and diplomatic intelligence available in all these documents will discourage the wrong people from trying to find what they're looking for in them. But if just one GI has been endangered, or one intelligence source compromised, that would be one too many.
Still another breach of national security by a supposedly idealistic crusader is scarcely news in our times. The only surprise would be if the leaker weren't given a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts. Brother Assange can always hope. When it exposed how American intelligence used databanks to trace terrorists' international calls, the New York Times got a Pulitzer. Why not Wikileaks?