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July 20, 2012

Pentagon Clampdown on Leaks Part of Response to WikiLeaks

Posted in: Whistleblowers,WikiLeaks

(Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta and JCS Chairman Patrick Dempsey at House Armed Services Committee hearing in April 2012/Flickr Photo by Secretary of Defense)

The Pentagon announced measures to further ensure classified information is not disclosed without authorization by defense personnel who have security clearances. The announcement came after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Patrick Dempsey and Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson testified during a closed hearing before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday.

The increased security to prevent classified information leaks might appear to be motivated by the recent Obama administration “leaks” on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) underwear bomb plot sting operation in Yemen, Obama’s “kill list” and cyber warfare against Iran. However, the steps being taken likely have more to do with Pfc. Bradley Manning’s alleged leaks to WikiLeaks from late 2009 to the spring of 2010 than the recent spate of “leaks” that have inspired politicians to go on an offensive against the free flow of information.

The Pentagon reports it has, in recent months: enacted a protocol for monitoring major, national media reporting for “unauthorized disclosures,” improved personnel training on how to handle and protect classified information; published a manual with “clearer instructions” on “what constitutes an unauthorized disclosure,” etc; developed an “Automated Security Incident Reporting System,” an “online reporting system for significant security incidents for use across the department; instituted a lockdown on removable storage devices on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), a secure network containing sensitive and classified information; escalated monitoring of Defense Department networks; sought to improve “auditing of information accesses” to “spot anomalous behavior” and detect “malicious insiders”; launched a “Comprehensive Insider Threat Program”; revitalized how Defense Department security is managed; and stood up an Unauthorized Disclosures Working Group (UDWG).

The new policy of monitoring media is possibly inspired by Obama administration “leaks,” but most of the measures began to be implemented before there was any hysteria on Capitol Hill about administration “leaking.”

This new plan for managing Defense Department security, the Pentagon news release says, was “raised during the WikiLeaks investigation.” The Working Group was set up in April 2011 to “develop a strategy and plan of action and milestones aimed at improving our ability to prevent accidental and deter intentional public disclosure of classified national security information” and this happened before any of the recent “leaks” were making headlines. The Insider Threat Task Force began in October of last year, and the incident reporting system was fully operational in December 2011. That tracks with any possible department response to WikiLeaks.

Then, there’s the “lockdown of removable storage device use” on SIPRNet. As the press release describes:

The department has deployed a host-based security system (HBSS) tool to virtually monitor every defense department computer.  HBSS prevents the downloading of information onto removable storage like DVDs, CDs, and memory sticks, with very limited exceptions.  The tool also sends an alarm any time someone tries to write classified information to such removable storage.  For authorized exceptions, the tool audits any downloads of information.

It was reported in early May the Army would be monitoring soldiers “keystrokes, downloads and web searches on computers that soldiers use.” This would include tracking downloads to removable drives.

Manning’s defense lawyer David Coombs, during a pretrial Article 32 hearing in December 2011, asked a top intelligence officer in Manning’s unit, Captain Steven Lim, about the procedures for inventorying and applying to get DVDs/CDs for burning classified information. They were supposed to have labels and standard forms to easily tell what was on the discs. This was to ensure classified materials were not loaded on to an unclassified machine. The inventory process included signing out materials, too. For example, products on CDs might be taken to linguists to be translated. However, Coombs mentioned he had seen photos of the SCIF with “CDs laying all over.” Many of the CDs were not labeled. From time to time, this is how many CDs were handled. Soldiers were allowed to have music but the bringing in of music CDs was scarcely regulated. Soldiers were allowed to leave with writable CDs if they had “official purposes” but that was “trusted and not enforced.”

To protect secret information from leaving, Lim said, when asked how that was enforced, “You double wrap it and you take it out.” Music was put on terminals, machines hooked to SIPRnet. Soldiers were watching movies on terminals and sometimes even found on the SIPRnet machines. Games were also found on SIPRnet.

This was the state of affairs in the secured facility, where one of the biggest intelligence breaches in the history of the world is believed to have happened. It is where Manning is alleged to have taken CDs with classified information, one even marked “Lady Gaga,” back to his living quarters.

Additionally, the Defense Department had an incident in 2008 where malware was introduced into the DoD systems via a removable device like a thumb drive. They pledged then to suspend “the use of so-called thumb drives, CDs, flash media cards, and all other removable data storage devices from their nets.”

The ban comes from the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, according to an internal Army e-mail. It applies to both the secret SIPR and unclassified NIPR nets. The suspension, which includes everything from external hard drives to “floppy disks,” is supposed to take effect “immediately.”…

…Servicemembers are supposed to “cease usage of all USB storage media until the USB devices are properly scanned and determined to be free of malware,” one e-mail notes.

Eventually, some government-approved drives will be allowed back under certain “mission-critical,” but unclassified, circumstances. “Personally owned or non-authorized devices” are “prohibited” from here on out.

Manning was still able to allegedly download sensitive or classified information off SIPRNet onto a CD and take it to his living quarters. And, as Marcy Wheeler points out, nobody was fired for leaving the system vulnerable.

The majority of the news reports on the Pentagon’s measures position the intensified security as part of a government-wide response to “leaks,” which have received wide attention from Congress members in the past few months. Surprisingly, none include mention of Manning’s case. None include mention of WikiLeaks. In fact, Defense Department officials appear to have some aversion to publicizing these measures as responses to WikiLeaks.

Manning, according to chat logs, wanted to start “worldwide discussions.” He is now being tried for indirectly “aiding the enemy” by releasing intelligence to “the enemy” through WikiLeaks. (And the government has testified in court that the “enemy” is Al Qaeda.)

This is not happening because high-ranking government officials are talking too much with the press. Leaks happen all the time in Washington, DC. This is happening because the government wants to ensure that people who would like to inform the public on information that contains details on bribery, coverups, fraud, misconduct, theft, war crimes, and other crimes think twice about making information public. [Incidentally, Dempsey declared Manning was guilty ahead of any conviction in a court of law in March of this year.]

Not only is the government willing to prosecute people who release information without authorization, but they are also willing to tighten security to an extent that forces employees to forfeit basic civil liberties or rights that many Americans might take for granted. They are willing to further entrench a culture that reveres loyalty and obedience, treats classified designations of information as sacrosanct, and dissuades individuals from blowing the whistle on criminal activity.


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