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February 25, 2013

Pentagon Suggests Sequester Would Impair Ability to Fight WikiLeaks

Posted in: Military,Secrecy,Security,WikiLeaks

Pentagon builds cyber army (US government photo in public domain & posted by Fort Meade)

Four days away from massive austerity that would result in cuts to the United States government, the Pentagon is suggesting the cuts would make it harder to fight cyber threats.

Posted by Secrecy News, Zachary J. Lemnios, the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, was asked by Sen. Rob Portman what would be the impact to “cybersecurity” if the cuts went through. Though Portman did not mention WikiLeaks, Lemnios responded:

Mr. LEMNIOS. The fiscal year 2013 budget includes significant funding for cybersecurity efforts across the government and includes both defense and non-defense, and classified and unclassified activities. At this stage, it would be premature to speculate on the specific impacts sequestration would likely have on cybersecurity activities. However, cuts under sequestration could hurt efforts to fight cyber threats, including four key efforts:

• Improving the security of our classified Federal networks and addressing WikiLeaks;
• Continuing the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI);
• Sustaining the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace; and
• Initiating continuous monitoring of unclassified networks at all Federal agencies

According to Lemnios, the Pentagon fears national security leaks could result. Such fear reflects how expensive it is to maintain the secrecy state in government. In 2011, it cost government agencies $11.4 billion to “secure classified documents.” Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) director John Fitzpatrick said, “The biggest agency in this area is the Defense Department, which accounts for 90 percent of the $11.4 billion spent on security classification activities last year. Its 2011 spending jumped $1.3 billion from 2010.”

The billion dollar increase likely included funding for programs instituted after WikiLeaks published previously classified information. It was reported in early May 2011 the Army would be monitoring soldiers “keystrokes, downloads and web searches on computers that soldiers use” in the aftermath of the release of documents. The Army would include tracking downloads to removable drives. It is unlikely this would fall by the wayside, however, this is this security does require personnel and resources. It is expensive to run a secrecy state (and participating in security can be a boondoggle for private contractors).

What makes this warning from the Pentagon about losing the ability to “address” WikiLeaks remarkable is not that programs could be cut or impaired. Recently, the White House released a strategy to protect trade secrets from theft or economic espionage.

WikiLeaks was named in the strategy. An executive summary explained, “Cyberspace provides relatively small-scale actors an opportunity to become players in economic espionage. Under-resourced governments or corporations could build relationships with hackers to develop customized malware or remote-access exploits to steal sensitive US economic or technology information, just as certain [foreign intelligence services] have already done.” It then proceeded to assert, “Similarly, political or social activists may use the tools of economic espionage against US companies, agencies, or other entities, with disgruntled insiders leaking information about corporate trade secrets or critical US technology to ‘hacktivist’ groups like WikiLeaks.”

As I wrote, the strategy made clear the White House does not consider WikiLeaks a media organization. It characterized it as a “self-styling whistleblowing” organization. The word “self-styled” indicated WikiLeaks is not a “whistleblowing organization” to White House officials.

In the strategy, the organization is listed under a description of hacktivists and even described as an example of a “hacktivist” organization. It is blatantly false and malicious because staffers of WikiLeaks are not known to have hacked into any businesses or organizations to obtain information. They are not even known to have solicited information from insiders. All information released has been the result of submissions from sources they are unable to identify because their submission system was setup to protect the identity of sources or the information has been personally handed over by a whistleblower.

I clearly stated WikiLeaks is a media organization and a publisher, not some “hacktivist” collective. WikiLeaks has a right to publish just like other news outlets, including those in the United States that are sometimes incredibly subservient to corporate interests or the US government.

Now, with this response from the Pentagon on what could be impacted, it becomes more apparent the government views WikiLeaks as a cyber-espionage actor and not a publisher. How else does one explain the fact that an official from the Pentagon mentioned WikiLeaks in a response to a question about the impact of the sequester on “cybersecurity”?

And, what does “address” mean? It has been two to three years since the leaks took place. The breach has been addressed with the Pentagon further clamping down on the flow of information within the military. “Address” means WikiLeaks is still considered a threat—an organization it believes will strike again—and they are fighting it to ensure it cannot get into its systems and release any secrets.

The problem is that is not what WikiLeaks does or will ever do. It does not go into government systems and pilfer classified information. Yet, the national security state promotes this falsehood about WikiLeaks to justify the expansion of cyber and secrecy powers.


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