How the Pentagon Hopes to Prevent More WikiLeaks Embarrassments

Makes info-sharing harder, but DoD doesn't have a great track record on cyber security

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In the wake of WikiLeaks releasing hundreds of thousands of secret State Department memos, the Pentagon is walking back from a post-9/11 push to encourage more information-sharing. The Defense Department will disable computers' ability to "write" onto thumb drives, as well as limit who can move classified data onto an unclassified device. It's also working on a way to detect unusual or suspicious behavior, the way a credit-card company spots potential fraud.

"The 9/11 Commission directed that the government work harder to share information across the bureaucracy – not 'stovepipe' or compartmentalize it," Politico's Gordon Lubold reports. But now the Pentagon wants to recalibrate the balance between sharing and security. Some are criticizing the Obama administration for letting the leak happen: "You have to ask yourself a question, why would a private first class, sitting in Baghdad, have access to this kind of information?” Rep. Peter Hoekstra told Lubold.

  • Terrorists Can View Files, But Soldiers Can't, Wired's Noah Shachtman reported during the last wave of leaks. Any bad guy "can go to the WikiLeaks website, and download detailed information about how the U.S. military waged war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009. Members of that same military, however, are now banned from looking at those internal military documents... There was a time, just a few months ago, when the Pentagon appeared to be growing comfortable with the emerging digital media landscape. Troops were free to blog and tweet, as long as they used their heads and didn’t disclose secrets. Thumb drives and DVDs could be employed, as long as they didn’t carry viruses or classified information. But the WikiLeaks disclosures — tens of thousands of classified documents — seem to have reversed that trajectory."
  • Not a Great Track Record on Cyber Security, Shachtman reported in another post. In late 2008, a worm was introduced to the military's classified networks via an infected thumb drive. It was inserted into a classified laptop on a base in the Mideast, and from there, slowly built a "digital beachhead." It took nearly 14 months to wipe out the scourge. "The endeavor was so tortuous that it helped lead to a major reorganization of the armed forces’ information defenses, including the creation of the military’s new Cyber Command," Shachtman writes. "The havoc caused by agent.btz has little to do with the worm’s complexity or maliciousness — and everything to do with the military’s inability to cope with even a minor threat."
  • How Were the Files Leaked? The Guardian's David Leigh explains that the cables arrived at his newspaper on an "innocuous-looking memory stick," whose 1.6 gigabytes of text files contained 251,287 dispatches. The leaker is suspected to be Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old soldier, who reportedly confessed to stealing the info while he was downrange. "It was childishly easy," Leigh writes, noting Bradley bragged, "I would come in with music on a CD-RW labelled with something like 'Lady Gaga' … erase the music … then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing ... [I] had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months."
  • This Was Inevitable, Abraham R. Wagner argues at The Huffington Post. The leaks are "a serious problem of the Government's own making," massive amount of classified materials, unsteady adoption of new technology, and the  "sheer number of people with security clearances." In every large population, you'll find a significant number of people with psychiatric disorders or who are in general disgruntled.
  • Ours Is the Age of the Leak, Hua Hsu writes at The Atlantic. "To me, the leak is such a quintessentially 'now' phenomenon. It's the logic that divines pure, flowing, overwhelming data--the words, websites, Tweets, etc. that inundate us daily--from data that seems somehow more worthwhile. It's a gloss of intrigue, a wrinkle in the official narrative, a few bytes of data gone astray, a secret liberated for all to share--or so we assume. An NAACP speech? I'd rather re-watch this clip of a dog vomiting. A clip of an NAACP speech someone leaked to someone else, under the hush of secrecy? Tell me more."
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