The US military in 2008 shut down a website set up by the CIA and Saudi Arabia to expose terror plots, angering both parties, who saw the site as a vital intelligence tool, the Washington Post reported Friday.
Despite objections from the Central Intelligence Agency, US military computer experts dismantled the online forum after commanders raised concerns that extremists in Iraq were using the site to plan attacks on American forces, the Post wrote, citing unnamed former US officials.
The online forum had been created several years earlier as a “honey pot,” allowing intelligence agencies to track and identify militants in Saudi Arabia.
The closure of the site inadvertently disrupted more than 300 servers in Saudi Arabia, Germany and Texas, forcing Washington to apologize to the Saudi and German governments, it said.
“There was a lot of bowing and scraping,” one official told the paper.
The episode triggered an intense debate inside the government and raised difficult questions about how to conduct cyber warfare — questions that remain unresolved.
“The point of the story is it hasn’t been sorted out yet in a way that all the persons involved in cyber-operations have a clear understanding of doctrine, legal authorities and policy, and a clear understanding of the distinction between what is considered intelligence activity and wartime (Defense Department) authority,” one former senior national security official told the Post.
The CIA argued that closing the site would lead to the loss of valuable intelligence and that extremists would simply move on to other online platforms, the report said.
But the National Security Agency held that dismantling the site was a legitimate operation in defense of US forces while top military commanders, including the head of US troops in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, warned that extremists were using the site to plot attacks, it said.
The CIA “understood that intelligence would be lost, and it was; that relationships with cooperating intelligence services would be damaged, and they were; and that the terrorists would migrate to other sites, and they did,” one former official was quoted as saying.
The Pentagon declined to comment on the report and the Central Intelligence Agency was not immediately available for a response.