USA — Officials Condemn Disclosures, Detail Prevention Efforts

WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2010 — Gov­ern­ment offi­cials con­demned the pub­li­ca­tion of hun­dreds of thou­sands of sen­si­tive, clas­si­fied State Depart­ment cables by Wik­iLeaks today.
The web­site pub­lished the doc­u­ments that detail pri­vate U.S. diplo­mat­ic dis­cus­sions with for­eign gov­ern­ments. The cables are can­did reports by diplo­mats and, seen by them­selves, can give an incom­plete pic­ture of the rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and the for­eign gov­ern­ments, White House offi­cials said.

The cables are not expres­sions of pol­i­cy, nor do they always shape final pol­i­cy deci­sions. “Nev­er­the­less, these cables could com­pro­mise pri­vate dis­cus­sions with for­eign gov­ern­ments and oppo­si­tion lead­ers, and when the sub­stance of pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions is print­ed on the front pages of news­pa­pers across the world, it can deeply impact not only U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy inter­ests, but those of our allies and friends around the world,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a press release.

“To be clear, such dis­clo­sures put at risk our diplo­mats, intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als, and peo­ple around the world who come to the Unit­ed States for assis­tance in pro­mot­ing democ­ra­cy and open gov­ern­ment,” he con­tin­ued.

The release of the doc­u­ments may risk the lives of diplo­mats and friends liv­ing under repres­sive regimes. The Unit­ed States stands for respon­si­ble, open gov­ern­ment at home and around the world, Gibbs said.

“This reck­less and dan­ger­ous action runs counter to that goal,” he said. “By releas­ing stolen and clas­si­fied doc­u­ments, Wik­ileaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these indi­vid­u­als. We con­demn in the strongest terms the unau­tho­rized dis­clo­sure of clas­si­fied doc­u­ments and sen­si­tive nation­al secu­ri­ty infor­ma­tion.”

Today’s post­ing is the third Wik­iLeaks pub­li­ca­tion of sen­si­tive U.S. doc­u­ments. The last pub­li­ca­tion includ­ed mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence reports from Afghanistan, and anoth­er con­tained sim­i­lar doc­u­ments from Iraq. News­pa­per and mag­a­zine jour­nal­ists in the Unit­ed States and Europe received and reviewed the doc­u­ments from Wik­iLeaks and have writ­ten sto­ries on their con­tent.

The Pen­ta­gon has put in place meth­ods to min­i­mize such thefts of clas­si­fied mate­ri­als. “It is now much more dif­fi­cult for a deter­mined actor to get access to and move infor­ma­tion out­side of autho­rized chan­nels,” Pen­ta­gon spokesman Bryan Whit­man said in a writ­ten state­ment fol­low­ing pub­li­ca­tion of news arti­cles on the doc­u­ments today.

The theft of the mate­ri­als traces to the lack of shar­ing of infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence pri­or to and after the Sept.11, 2001 ter­ror­ist attacks. The com­mis­sion study­ing the envi­ron­ment at the time found that agen­cies weren’t shar­ing enough infor­ma­tion with each oth­er. While stop­ping short of say­ing bet­ter shar­ing could have pre­vent­ed the attacks, the 9–11 Com­mis­sion point­ed this out as a weak­ness that need­ed to be closed.

Fed­er­al offi­cials respond­ed by work­ing to push out more infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence in an effort to strike a bal­ance between the “need to know” and the need to “share to win.” “Depart­ments and agen­cies have tak­en sig­nif­i­cant steps to reduce those obsta­cles, and the work that has been done to date has result­ed in con­sid­er­able improve­ment in infor­ma­tion-shar­ing and increased coop­er­a­tion across gov­ern­ment oper­a­tions,” Whit­man said.

The effort back­fired in that it made it eas­i­er for indi­vid­u­als or groups inside the process to steal the infor­ma­tion. DOD respond­ed by putting in place poli­cies to pre­vent such occur­rences, while still giv­ing infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence to the peo­ple who need it most – those con­fronting the real­i­ties of ter­ror­ism. Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates ordered two reviews of infor­ma­tion and intel­li­gence shar­ing in August. The review called on DOD sys­tems to dis­able all “write” capa­bil­i­ty for remov­able media on clas­si­fied com­put­ers to mit­i­gate the risks of per­son­nel mov­ing clas­si­fied data to unclas­si­fied sys­tems, Whit­man said.

The reviews also direct DOD orga­ni­za­tions to have a lim­it­ed num­ber of sys­tems autho­rized to move data from clas­si­fied to unclas­si­fied sys­tems, he said. DOD orga­ni­za­tions are also imple­ment­ing two-per­son han­dling rules for mov­ing data from clas­si­fied to unclas­si­fied sys­tems to ensure prop­er over­sight and reduce chances of unau­tho­rized release of clas­si­fied mate­r­i­al, Whit­man said.

DOD is also tak­ing a page from cred­it card com­pa­nies which mon­i­tor pat­terns and detect sus­pi­cious or anom­alous behav­ior. Some 60 per­cent of DOD’s clas­si­fied net is now using a host-based secu­ri­ty sys­tem – an auto­mat­ed way of con­trol­ling the com­put­er sys­tem with a capa­bil­i­ty of mon­i­tor­ing unusu­al data access or usage. The depart­ment is speed­ing deploy­ment to the rest of the clas­si­fied sys­tem, Whit­man said.

In addi­tion, the depart­ment is con­duct­ing secu­ri­ty over­sight inspec­tions in for­ward-deployed areas, under­tak­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty assess­ments of DOD net­works and improv­ing aware­ness and com­pli­ance with infor­ma­tion pro­tec­tion pro­ce­dures.

U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, for exam­ple, has increased insid­er threat train­ing for its intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als and start­ed mul­ti­dis­ci­pline train­ing between tra­di­tion­al secu­ri­ty, law enforce­ment and infor­ma­tion assur­ance at all ech­e­lons. The com­mand also has estab­lished insid­er threat work­ing groups to address the Wik­ileaks inci­dent and pre­vent reoc­cur­rence.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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