Stanley McChrystal: The military case for sharing knowledge

When I was a young officer, they told me to follow my instincts, to go with my gut, and what I’ve learned is that often our instincts are wrong. In the summer of 2010, there was a massive leak of classified documents that came out of the Pentagon. It shocked the world, it shook up the American government, and it made people ask a lot of questions, because the sheer amount of information that was let out, and the potential impacts, were significant. And one of the first questions we asked ourselves was why would a young soldier have access to that much information? Why would we let sensitive things be with a relatively young person? In the summer of 2003, I was assigned to command a special operations task force, and that task force was spread across the Mideast to fight al Qaeda. Our main effort was inside Iraq, and our specified mission was to defeat al Qaeda in Iraq. For almost five years I stayed there, and we focused on fighting a war that was unconventional and it was difficult and it was bloody and it often claimed its highest price among innocent people. We did everything we could to stop al Qaeda and the foreign fighters that
came in as suicide bombers and as accelerants to the violence. We honed our combat skills, we developed new equipment, we parachuted, we helicoptered, we took small boats, we drove, and we walked to objectives night after night to stop the killing that this network was putting forward. We bled, we died, and we killed to stop that organization from the violence that they were putting largely against the Iraqi people. Now, we did what we knew, how we had grown up, and
one of the things that we knew, that was in our DNA, was secrecy. It was security. It was protecting information. It was the idea that information was the lifeblood and it was what would protect and keep people safe. And we had a sense that, as we operated within our organizations, it was important to keep information in the silos within the organizations, particularly only give information to people had a demonstrated need to know. But the question often came, who needed to know? Who needed, who had to have the information so that they could do the important
parts of the job that you needed? And in a tightly coupled world, that’s very hard to predict. It’s very hard to know who needs to have information and who doesn’t. I used to deal with intelligence agencies, and I’d complain that they weren’t
sharing enough intelligence, and with a straight face, they’d
look at me and they’d say, “What aren’t you getting?” (Laughter) I said, “If I knew that, we wouldn’t have a problem.” But what we found is we had to change. We had to change our culture about information. We had to knock down walls. We had to share. We had to change from who needs to know to the fact that who doesn’t know, and we need to tell, and tell
them as quickly as we can. It was a significant culture shift for an organization that had secrecy in its DNA. We started by doing things, by building, not working in offices, knocking down walls, working in things we called situation awareness rooms, and in the summer of 2007, something happened which demonstrated this. We captured the personnel records for the people who were bringing foreign fighters into Iraq. And when we got the personnel records, typically, we would have hidden these, shared them with a few intelligence agencies, and then try to operate with them. But as I was talking to my intelligence officer, I said, “What do we do?” And he said, “Well, you found them.” Our command. “You can just declassify them.” And I said, “Well, can we declassify them? What if the enemy finds out?” And he says, “They’re their personnel records.” (Laughter) So we did, and a lot of people got upset about that, but as we passed that information around, suddenly you find that information is only of value if you give it to people who have the ability to do something with it. The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it. So as a consequence, what we did was we changed the idea of information, instead of knowledge is power, to one where sharing is power. It was the fundamental shift, not new tactics, not new weapons, not new anything else. It was the idea that we were now part of a team in which information became the essential link between us, not a block between us. And I want everybody to take a deep breath and let it out, because in your life, there’s going to be information that leaks out you’re not going to like. Somebody’s going to get my college grades out, a that’s going to be a disaster. (Laughter) But it’s going to be okay, and I will tell you that I am more scared of the bureaucrat that holds information in a desk drawer or in a safe than I am of someone who leaks, because ultimately, we’ll be better off if we share. Thank you. (Applause) Helen Walters: So I don’t know if
you were here this morning, if you were able to catch Rick Ledgett, the deputy director of the NSA who was responding to Edward
Snowden’s talk earlier this week. I just wonder, do you think the American government should give Edward Snowden amnesty? Stanley McChrystal: I think that
Rick said something very important. We, most people, don’t know all the facts. I think there are two parts of this. Edward Snowden shined a
light on an important need that people had to understand. He also took a lot of documents that he didn’t have the knowledge to know the importance of, so I think we need to learn the facts about this case before we make snap judgments about Edward Snowden. HW: Thank you so much. Thank you. (Applause)


  1. Skeletoaster

    May 7, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    He acknowledges that the war took the highest toll on innocent people, yet doesn't make the connection that the force he was fighting with was much more harmful to society than the force he was fighting against.

    Here we have a man talking about the change of culture within a violent gang without questioning the actual worth of that gang, or the rights of the people within it, in the first place.

    "I am more scared of the bureaucrat that holds information in a desk drawer or in a safe, than I am of someone who leaks, because ultimately we'll be better off if we share."

    If that's the case, then you should be working towards getting away from the bureaucracy instead of supporting it.

  2. Sp0ckr0ck

    May 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    the day I see General McChrystal on TED, and he's not repenting, is the day I stop watching TED

  3. Ben Nutley

    May 7, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    TED when will you realise that the poor like/dislike ratio ACTUALLY DOES reflect the quality of the speakers you have on?

  4. Kombaiyashii

    May 7, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    What a rehearsed softball question at the end.

  5. Joe Wilder

    May 7, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    One credit for Mr. McChrystal.  The whole thing about Al Qaeda in Iraq was not well explained.  I seem to remember Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq when we went there.

  6. Marko Kraguljac

    May 7, 2014 at 4:11 pm


  7. Jason Oliver

    May 7, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Don't try and make us feel sympathetic for you.

  8. MeLexdy

    May 7, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Isnt the Us gov that screwed all their allies in the past by hiding info?

    While they both made an arrangement to share it??? (hint australia?

    This guy is dangerous.

    Did he say its not a big deal if personal data goes public?

  9. Winstan

    May 7, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    No sympathy for this guy or his ideas

  10. AI fan

    May 7, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    lovely to see TED giving a voice to poor down trodden war criminals

  11. poliestotico

    May 7, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    So wait, can anyone tell me where to watch the previous talk the lady was talking about? I wanna know more about what the NSA has to say about the Snowden case

  12. Adrien Perié

    May 7, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I think he needed to have the information Al-Quaeda was created by the CIA in the 80's, that would have spared him a lot, also the irony of this guy talking about sharing information on a TED talk is so heavy you could use it to create black holes and stuff.

  13. Ash Ketchum

    May 7, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    AMERICA WANTS 9/11 TRUTH, Mr. General. 

  14. The_Misanthrope

    May 7, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I stopped watching at "largely against the Iraqi people" Seriously is bad enough that this made it to TED but why upload a video of this? Unsubscribed.

  15. Kilo Bravo Productions

    May 7, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    when i was in Afghanistan we had these signs all around the operations center that said
    "push/pull of information:
    what do i know? who needs to know it? have i told them?
    what do i need to know? who knows it? have i asked them?"

  16. x

    May 7, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Is this an interlude between more meaningful talks? I should've taken the chance to add more hot water to my tea.

  17. MedEighty

    May 7, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    I'm disappointed. I was expecting a song and dance routine with the piano in the background.

  18. Vintageitem store

    May 7, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    U.S did the same in vietnam send in tanks helicopters etc. You have to just let the iraqi people fight their own fight.

  19. Dark Day Ministries

    May 7, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Here's an idea worth spreading: All the data show that the fewer soldiers people have in Near and Middle-Eastern countries, the less likely they are to suicide bomb you.
    I'm fed up with TED's inability to keep up with the rise in Libertarianism amongst Millennials.  There's always some left-wing or at least big government message in these vids.  Cut government, cut legislation, trade with everyone, mind your own business and everyone wins.

  20. Hank Scorpio

    May 7, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    You disappoint me Ted.  

  21. YawnGod

    May 7, 2014 at 6:16 pm


    Jesus fucking Allah.

  22. Clint Girard

    May 7, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    " to des- stop the…" says it all. destroyer.

  23. BaadBoy's Playhouse

    May 7, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Snowden belongs in prison for STEALING sensitive hardware, software, and documents and then providing this classified material to foreign countries. 

  24. SebyT10

    May 7, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    f**k – he is so boring!

  25. AADX74

    May 7, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Propaganda is too thick.  sorry TED, fail.

  26. Raven

    May 7, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    What an idiot.  This man clearly does not know anything about data and its value.

  27. meurtri

    May 7, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    this talk is so bad i wanna waterboard it.

  28. Ashley ASHLEYM

    May 7, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    I think it's sad how people believe we can reach justice through war. Never fight fire with fire, because if you do a bad action which others did on to you, to them, you are just as bad them if not worse. The American military is a disgusting gang that must be stopped. War is a terrible thing, time to solve problems with something more intelligent and more positive than war.

  29. Alistair Moss

    May 7, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    We need to know more secret information that hasn't been released before we decide whether it was right for Snowdon to release secret information. 


    May 7, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    You are just a killer who came to someone country to kill them and take their oil you killed more than 1000000 iraqis to save them ? those people were living in peace until you came america the world is 80 % more peaceful without you 

  31. adolthitler

    May 7, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    What a coward!!!! Share the information he says. Let's not acquit Edward Snowden he might have shared information.
    Hypocrites are the worst of all scum.

  32. adolthitler

    May 7, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    What a coward!!!! Share the information he says. Let's not acquit Edward Snowden he might have shared information.
    Hypocrites are the worst of all scum.

  33. Taron Silver

    May 7, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    That last line!

  34. TheVirtualban

    May 7, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Don't worry, you are being replaced by technology… no more leaks from non-humans, or young idealists that have not been brainwashed yet.

  35. Vee pij

    May 7, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    very interesting

  36. Anthony

    May 7, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    I really like his thoughts on Snowden. We don't know all the facts and our government will never tell us and Snowden doesn't understand well enough to tell us. So any decision made by us is bound to be wrong, and any info Snowden is bound to wrong as well, and we can't trust the guys who lied the whole time.

  37. MiddleClass SeaBass

    May 7, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    This guy didn't say anything controversial and you guys still get your panties in a bunch. You guys are pathetic. This was better than 90% of TED talks.

  38. evillizard007007

    May 7, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    Give him a break guys. Do you think he would ruin his own career over a TED Talk? Although the overall message was not that great, I think it's a start. I just hope this mentality of sharing information becomes more wide spread.

  39. Alan Weiss

    May 8, 2014 at 12:13 am

    A combination of General George S. Patton and General Omar Bradley, this brilliant leader can teach us a lot about organizational behavior, strategic thinking, motivating individuals and teams, and of course military tactics.  I for one hope that I make enough money to afford whatever seminars this patriot and hero gives.  I can learn a lot from this guy.

  40. Robert Marlowe

    May 8, 2014 at 12:56 am

    That's a pretty big paradigm shift. I hope the military sticks with this policy of transparency as it should help combat of a lot of fraud, waste and abuses that they've been battling against for awhile now.

  41. imir8atu

    May 8, 2014 at 2:39 am

    I have every right to March into your life and muck it up and get upset Enoff to return with even more destruction and death when you retaliate for your first atemp to steal,coerce,and install your idea's of how others live there peace, like that word PEACE bet not much killers never do … Baby president bushie total killings vs o bomb ah   I can not take this killing any longer . 

  42. LiamE69

    May 8, 2014 at 2:40 am

    Why did no one in the crowd call bullshit when he said he went to Iraq to fight Al-Qaeda?

  43. imir8atu

    May 8, 2014 at 2:52 am

    Sorry my AUTISM sucks just cant get my brain around flowing someones orders to kill another but hey you kill my brother or mother then ya maybe it jabbing tools or how I perceive how you facanat there powers and strive to develop even more efective ways to rule .. grab a puppet that is as close to real power your kind will see. Humanity is a bad joke when we have your likes sleeping at night TRY THIS peace…when the advacery shows with no uniform no military till thy are forced to tatter one together . Sorry

  44. pyr666

    May 8, 2014 at 2:52 am

    totally spineless at the end.

  45. joe.public

    May 8, 2014 at 4:40 am

    how can you have a guy on TED that justifies war by climbing to be fighting an organization that was formed funded and trained by the US ? duh

  46. angelatobanana

    May 8, 2014 at 5:57 am

    I can't believe a reputable company like TED invited MCCHRYSTAL of all people to speak about their military expertise. May I remind you of the article that led to his dismissal?

  47. jammyjaime

    May 8, 2014 at 8:03 am

    Saying "We killed to stop the killing" is equivalent to saying "we used petrol to put out the fire"


  48. Shane Cox

    May 8, 2014 at 9:10 am

    100% correct.

  49. Jonto Dickens

    May 8, 2014 at 11:14 am

    When sharing is convenient for the US military it suddenly becomes the right thing to do for everyone else too.

    "We've had some of our secrets forcibly exposed so it's only right that everyone else reveal theirs now, in, erm, the name of transparency and openness"

  50. thepeff

    May 8, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    "You need to learn the facts we are unwilling to share about Edward Snowden before you make any judgments." -CIA

  51. Vikram Sumer

    May 8, 2014 at 2:25 pm


  52. Jenni H

    May 8, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    My job in the military has changed since the war to now have a secret classification because it was too detrimental to have our maps, travel routes and plans freely available. Some information needs to be withheld to save lives. Who can get hurt should always be the key question when deciding wether or not to share information.

  53. northcacalacka545

    May 8, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Hey, lets get all the info we can on the solders on the Russian/Ukraine border and spread it like peanut butter.

  54. SeanFromPVD

    May 8, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    The thing that people don't understand is that a government that shares information easily and regularly with its people, is likely using that 'sharing' to hide some of the worst stuff. If you have 'enough' information to pacify you, then you stop asking questions and pressing for more transparency.

    A good example of this is C-SPAN & C-SPAN II; a place where you can see tons of information about bills being placed before Congress. (Often giving the H.R. number if you want to google it.) Who watches that? I'll bet very few people, but they would be better informed about the government if they did.

    The best way to stop people from being interested in DoD information is to have a Pentagon reality show. People will be so bored to tears by the average day-to-day operations. It would be like watching NASCAR, but with all of the drivers downgraded to golf carts. Very slow, fewer collisions and relatively no sense of danger or drama.

    Why do you think most media has turned into a tabloid? They give you all of the 'dirt', so they don't have to actually investigate anything. Thr only 'investigative reporting' is about obesity, drugs, or other public information based stuff.

  55. CloverPickingHarp

    May 8, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Michael Hastings…. RIP… #respect #patriot

  56. CloverPickingHarp

    May 8, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    Michael Hastings…. RIP… #respect #patriot

  57. CloverPickingHarp

    May 8, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Michael Hastings… RIP #respect #whistleblower #patriot

  58. CloverPickingHarp

    May 8, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Targeted kills and JSOC signature strikes

  59. CloverPickingHarp

    May 8, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    I can't believe this guy is speaking at Ted. This guy is a complete scumbag. Ted is an indoctrination camp

  60. EspadAmarilla

    May 9, 2014 at 7:44 am

    9/11, Sandy Hook and Boston marathon bombings were just a false flag. Your own government is doing horrible things just to extend USA's influence and oil power.

  61. inc95

    May 9, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Great talk.

  62. Leonidas GGG

    May 11, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    He actually spoke really well…better than that NSA guy.

  63. RC

    May 13, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    I'm starting to debunk UFO nuts and pseudo nuts on youtube and I'm looking for other youtubers to work with. I think these pseudo theorists can easily be taken down if the facts are presented to their followers in a cool and simple way. Most people are not astrophysicists to understand the facts by themselves and in result easily believe this pseudo nonsense. Most of these people however are intelligent individuals who will gladly support the truth if it's presented to them in a way they can understand.

    I think we can do better than just watch these pseudo clowns spread their ignorance on the web by exploiting unawareness of the regular youtuber.

    I'm looking for an Atheists only, I need someone who's willing to work with me on this in spare time. Send me a PM if interested and we'll discuss the details.

  64. DN

    May 13, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Hasnt really said anything new. Just covering for their own fault. Sharing of knowledge has always been beneficial no matter what the field. Science progresses because of that. Communities thrive because of sharing. Intelligence reports would be effective similarly. 

  65. Maria Andersson

    June 1, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    General Stanley McChrystal , I have found people using his name on Skype and that's people from west Africa ,They're criminals using General Stanley McChrystal and pics of him to lie and robs the people everywhere to sending money to them and also General James Stuart I have been chated to criminal for long time more than 1 month and I thought that's man he's real General James Stuart but is not.

  66. elba palma

    June 20, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    bless you

  67. Abdul Razak

    October 15, 2015 at 6:31 am

    American soldiers are terrorists and deserve to die. you come to our homeland and kill our people and you blame al-qaeda (who created by you guys!)
    it's very funny robbery entering your house, killing, stealing and making things to your womens and children and blame you to be the terrorist!
    blaming iraqi citizens who is protecting their homeland from killers and thieves like american soldier is not logical.. please..

  68. Kurtis Coleman

    December 28, 2015 at 1:10 am


  69. Anya Arisohn

    February 3, 2018 at 3:01 am

    My hero

  70. Alistair Augustus

    May 18, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    the American army is too rude , too stupid , and too cheap to ever make any real friends.

  71. Jake S

    July 29, 2018 at 6:51 pm

    The things Manning leaked actually turned out to be nothing.

  72. Robert Tilford

    August 24, 2018 at 11:34 am

    American people needed to know about US war crimes, payoffs to terrorists not to attack…

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