Murphy's Law: More Wikileaks Victims

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December 12, 2011:  The U.S. Army has completed its initial investigation of how PFC Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst, managed to remove hundreds of thousands of secret American military and diplomatic documents and pass them onto the public via Wikileaks. The army investigation identified fifteen officers and NCOs (sergeants) who screwed up and allowed Manning to get away with this. One of these supervisors, a sergeant, has already been punished by a reduction in rank for dereliction of duty. Others are expected to face prosecution and punishment.

The problem was that Manning, while bright, was a marginal soldier and an unstable individual. He should never have been allowed continued access to classified material, or even sent overseas. As is usually the case in these situations, there were plenty of safeguards in place but there were also circumstances that rendered all the safeguards useless. This has happened before. The big problem was that when you put too many safeguards in place people will find them onerous, not useful, and avoid them. Thus the fifteen people identified as responsible for Manning getting away with his crime all inadvertently cooperated in making it possible for Manning to commit treason.

Manning worked in intelligence. As such, he had a security clearance and access to SIPRNet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network). This was a private Department of Defense network established in 1991 using Internet technology and able to handle classified (secret) documents. But Manning got access to a computer with a writable CD drive and was able to copy all those classified documents to a CD (marked as containing Lady Gaga tracks) and walk out of his workplace with it two years ago. The big error here was having PCs available with writable media (USB ports, diskettes, printers, or writable CD drives). You need some PCs with these devices but they should be few and carefully monitored. Normally, you would not need to copy anything off SIPRNet. Most of the time, if you want to share something it's with someone else on SIPRNet, so you can just email it to them or tell them what it is so they can call it up themselves. A network like SIPRNet usually (in many corporations and some government agencies) has software that monitors who accesses and copies, documents and reports any action that meets certain standards (of possibly being harmful). SIPRNet did not have these controls in place.

Diplomatic messages, at least some of the lower level classified stuff, was put on SIPRNet by a presidential directive that sought to get other departments sharing relevant data with military intelligence. This was to avoid the kind of bad communications that made possible the September 11, 2001 attacks. Before then, even though some American government agencies had prior information on the attackers no one made the connection. Unless all this information is collected together to make it obvious what is going on the attackers will go undetected until it is too late. As a result of the Manning leak the State Department withdrew access to its material by SIPRNet.

In the last decade, SIPRNet became extremely active and what controls there were on the network were strained to the point that you could do just about anything. This sharing of information was very helpful in fighting Islamic terrorists. Yet, with 2.5 million troops and civilians having access to SIPRNet there were very few leaks. All it takes is one person though. For over a year Manning was a one man SIPRNet crime wave. He is now in jail facing life in prison. There are now more restrictions regarding what is on SIPRNet and who has access to SIPRNet,and fifteen people believed responsible for supervising Manning are in big trouble.

In hindsight, it should have been obvious that Manning should not have access to SIPRNet, nor should he have been sent to Iraq. But in 2009 commanders were still under pressure to send enough troops to Iraq, even though al Qaeda had been defeated the year before. The goal at the time was to reduce the number of troops making additional trips overseas. Thus Manning was just the kind of soldier who had to go to Iraq as he had never been overseas. Manning's erratic, and often violent, behavior should have been another red flag. Actually, some of Manning's superiors opposed sending him overseas. But this was the army, in wartime, and a violent attitude was not considered a serious problem. Well, maybe not for an infantryman. But Manning was an intelligence analyst. Nevertheless, Manning was sent overseas where he discovered security at his top secret work facility was not effective enough to prevent a major theft of classified documents.

In the end, the Manning leak was not as disastrous as first thought. The leaked documents were meant (according to the Wikileaks leader) to embarrass the United States and expose American hypocrisy and underhanded operations, but the result was quite the opposite. The U.S. was shown trying to do what it said, publically, that it was trying to do. But many other nations were shown to be quite different in their private conversations than in their public ones. Some of these leaders now claim that they were misquoted, or that Wikileaks documents were a fabrication. It was initially believed that the released documents would make foreign officials more reluctant about speaking frankly with American officials. Didn't happen. Those conversations take place mainly because everyone wants something from the United States, and unless you establish a relationship with American diplomats or officials, nothing will happen. Moreover, many foreign officials found the revelations useful as the leaks got out into the open things (like Arab relationships with Iran and Israel) that could not be discussed openly at home. For the most part, Wikileaks confirmed what was already known, something the Wikileaks crew assumed could not be true.

 


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