WikiLeaks case prompts calls from some intelligence veterans for tighter access to US secrets

By Kimberly Dozier, AP
Thursday, July 29, 2010

WikiLeaks fallout: Tighter access to US secrets?

WASHINGTON — Call it the big information chill, looming across the military and intelligence communities. After the massive Afghan war data spill by WikiLeaks, some veteran intelligence officers and experts are calling for a tightening of access to information and more monitoring in the spy community’s lower levels.

They’re blaming post-9/11 changes that promoted information sharing as the culprit that made it too easy to lose control of the nation’s secrets.

“Frankly, we all knew this was going to happen,” former CIA Director Michael Hayden said. In a post-WikiLeaks world, he said many he’s spoken to feel burned by the disclosures and want to return to guarding their data.

The intelligence failures that led to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were blamed on government agencies hoarding information instead of sharing it, missing crucial clues that could have headed off al-Qaida’s strikes. Those changes, which reduced this kind of information “stovepiping,” have produced the opposite problem — amassing so much data that officials complain it’s hard to make sense of it or, as the WikiLeaks incident shows, keep it secret.

Intelligence officials and outside experts suggested that agency chiefs may push to limit access to electronic “portals” that have provided growing data access to intelligence officers, diplomats and troops around the world. And others predicted tighter scrutiny by an administration that already has pushed aggressively to investigate and prosecute leakers.

On the other hand, some lawmakers worry that the leaking incident will give the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies an excuse to go back to old ways of holding back some information as “too sensitive” to be shared.

“The intelligence community has a long way to go in information sharing,” said Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “If these leaks lead to even more stovepipes,” as in limiting access to data to only certain analysts or agencies, “it would be yet another devastating result of this betrayal.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., a House Intelligence Committee member who shares those concerns, conducted a closed hearing Tuesday on information sharing.

Eshoo would not detail what went on at the hearing, but she said “it’s the nature of the intelligence community to hoard information.” Despite the WikiLeaks episode, she said she would still push for “more information sharing in the intelligence community, not less.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that the leaks endangered the lives of Afghan citizens who have cooperated with NATO-led forces. He called the release of the papers “shocking” and “irresponsible.”

Suspicion for the WikiLeaks document dump centers on Army Spc. Bradley Manning, 22, of Potomac, Md., who is being detained in Kuwait, charged with “mishandling and leaking classified data.”

Manning was blamed for leaking a classified helicopter cockpit video of a 2007 firefight in Baghdad. Detained after he bragged of providing classified material to WikiLeaks, Manning later was charged with accessing what were described as more than 150,000 classified State Department cables, which have yet to surface.

So far, no U.S. official has directly linked Manning to the WikiLeaks documents.

One U.S. official who has examined some of the WikiLeaks documents said everything he’d seen could have been obtained by Manning by surfing a Defense Department intranet system known as the SIPRNet, for Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

Intelligence analysts like Manning and even troops in the field can access military field reports from Iraq or Afghanistan, or State Department sites, or even some intelligence sites.

The SIPRNet is not new, but access to it has grown since 9/11 to make information available to those who need it as the nation engaged in two wars.

The government has also put more information on SIPRNet by adding more portals giving users access to non-Defense Department information systems such as Intelink, an interagency data-sharing system. Many of these portals require passwords to reach more “top-secret” information, as opposed to the less-restricted “secret” material made available by WikiLeaks.

The U.S. official, who works regularly with these sites, said the defense community already had been fighting the natural inclination of those in the closed field of intelligence to restrict more of the portals by requiring passwords, even before the WikiLeaks incident.

Out on the battlefield, the WikiLeaks episode may also cause a new reluctance to share information. From a sergeant on the ground writing an after-action report following combat, to a supervisor reading the documents, there well could be a new push to leave information out rather than risk having it leaked.

That could make it harder for military headquarters to get an immediate assessment of what’s really happening on the battlefield, some officials say. And it could harm the ability of military historians later to make sense of the war.

But there’s pressure from the other direction as well: No intelligence manager would want to be responsible for holding back information that could connect the dots and prevent a terrorist attack.

Steven Aftergood, a specialist on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, predicted agencies would look for ways to tag records through electronic watermarks so their origins, and possible leakers, could be more easily identified.

Hayden, who now works at the Chertoff Group, a Washington-based consulting firm, went further, suggesting pouring resources into “real-time keystroke analysis of government employees,” monitoring everything they type and creating a perpetual cyber-polygraph.

While that already happens at some top-secret facilities, expanding the effort to the hundreds of thousands of people who access the SIPRNet could add millions of dollars to the nation’s already-huge costs of fighting terrorism and two wars.

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