The Los Angeles Times reported that Iranian-backed Houthis captured information in Yemen that reveals U.S. intelligence, including assets the U.S. has (or had) in place in the nation.
But the identities of local agents were considered compromised after Houthi leaders in Sana took over the offices of Yemen’s National Security Bureau, which had worked closely with the CIA and other intelligence agencies, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.
The article specifies that there is no information suggesting the Houthis gained “direct control of U.S. intelligence files.” This means they gained U.S. intelligence by way of whatever intelligence the U.S. and Yemeni government had shared.
This is an important thing to note when considering how intelligence works. When the U.S. intelligence community shares intelligence with another government there always is a chance that intelligence might fall into enemy hands. In other words, it’s a risk. Policymakers and politicians need to understand this. This doesn’t mean that the U.S. should never share intelligence; only that it has to weigh the risks against the rewards of doing so.
Policymakers and politicians might only have a vague understanding of this. Some politicians expressed disapproval early last year that the U.S. wasn’t sharing more intelligence with Ukraine than it already was. But the U.S. had multiple reasons for not wanting to do so—including that it feared any intelligence it shared with Ukraine might fall into the hands of Russia as the Wall Street Journal explained in 2015 after intelligence sharing apparently increased.
The images also are being obscured to reduce the risk that, if the Russians were to obtain them, they could glean important intelligence about U.S. satellite capabilities.
Policymakers and politicians have the right to push for the U.S. to share intelligence with other nations—including Ukraine. But there are risks in doing so, just as there are rewards. And policymakers and politicians must understand that it is they—not the intelligence community—who must bear the burden of responsibility when making demands to share intelligence with other nations.
The loss of intelligence in Yemen is a case study of the potential for disaster that always comes with sharing intelligence. And policymakers and politicians should remember this when considering sharing intelligence with other nations—Ukraine included.