If you’re wondering why Wikileaks has been able to obtain military reports on Iraq and Afghanistan as well as diplomatic cables for the last 10 or so years, wonder no more.
According to the UK’s Guardian, up to 3 million people had potential access to those archives on the government’s Siprnet system.
More than 3 million US government personnel and soldiers, many extremely junior, are cleared to have potential access to this material, even though the cables contain the identities of foreign informants, often sensitive contacts in dictatorial regimes. Some are marked "protect" or "strictly protect".
To me that’s a phenomenal revelation. If, like me, you were wondering how a Private First Class like Bradley Manning had access to this sort of information, now you know. Had I been aware of the number who had potential access to these files, I’d have said it isn’t a matter of “if” but “when” a leak would occur. Allowing that amount of access to information marked “Secret” and “NoForn”, short for “no foreign dissemination”, as well as the names of highly sensitive sources and contacts is a intelligence disaster waiting to happen.
A State Department Spokesman claims it was a reaction to pre-9/11 intelligence sharing – or lack there of:
"The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath revealed gaps in intra-governmental information sharing. Since the attacks of 9/11, the US government has taken significant steps to facilitate information sharing. These efforts were focused on giving diplomatic, military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists quicker and easier access to more data to more effectively do their jobs."
He added: "We have been taking aggressive action in recent weeks and months to enhance the security of our systems and to prevent the leak of information."
While I certainly don’t at all condone the Wikileaks publication of these cables, I have to tell you, given this new information, that I’m not at all surprised it has occurred. In fact, I’m rather surprised it has taken this long. And, of course, the damage being done is incalculable to US interests and foreign policy – not to mention those contacts and sources named. Wikileaks claims to have safeguarded that information, however, that’s a hollow promise. We have no idea who has seen these archives in full and what they may have done with the information. Any present contacts or sources have to fear for their lives and the likelihood of developing new sources and contacts just took one hell of a shot in the head.
Prior to 9/11, human intelligence (HUMINT) was an area of extreme weakness for the US. We’d made a conscious decision decades earlier to rely on technical means to gather intelligence – communications intercepts, spy satellites, etc. But, with some very notable intelligence failures (India’s nuclear weapons, Cole Bombing, embassy bombings, 9/11), we again understood the critical importance of HUMINT and have been attempting to again establish networks around the world. Obviously, the strictest secrecy must be maintained in order for that to work. Leaks like this could completely destroy those new networks and make impossible our ability to establish new ones.
No matter what you think of Wikileaks, and I’m not at all pleased or happy with what they’ve done, the decision to put this information on a network on which 3 million had potential access to the information borders on criminal. Sharing information is one thing – it should be done, but it must be done intelligently. This wasn’t about sharing – it was about a structural failure to safeguard critical information in a manner in which it should have been safeguarded.
The fact that these cables are being published around the world right now isn’t just the fault of Wikileaks, but a government which allowed that information to be easily accessed by those who had no reason or need to access it. The result of such poor management is now evident for all to see.