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WikiLeaks’ Cablegate Links State Dept. Bureau of Diplomatic Security to Madness 2011/09/28

Posted by nydawg in Archives, Digital Archives, Digital Preservation, Electronic Records, Information Technology (IT), Media, Privacy & Security, Records Management, WikiLeaks.
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For the last year or so, I’ve been fascinated by the whole WikiLeaks Cablegate story.  As I posted previously, there are a number of factors that contribute to this story which make it particularly interesting for people concerned with records  management and best practices for accessing and sharing information.   In my opinion, Private first class Bradley Manning is a fall guy (lipsynching to Lady Gaga), but problems revealed serious systemic malfunctions.  So I was very interested to read this article by Andy Kroll: “The Only State Dept. Employee Who May Be Fired Over WikiLeaks“.

Peter Van Buren is no insurgent. Quite the opposite: For 23 years he’s worked as a foreign service officer at the State Department, and a damn good one from the looks of it. He speaks Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean; served his country from Seoul to Sydney, Tokyo to Baghdad; and has won multiple awards for his disaster relief work. So why was Van Buren treated like a terror suspect by his own employer? For linking to a single leaked cable dumped online by WikiLeaks earlier this month.”

Well, this led me to read a TomDispatch.com posting by Van Buren himself which offers a clear-headed look at the madness!  For one thing, Van Buren got into a heap of trouble and was “under investigation for allegedly disclosing classified information” for LINKING to a WikiLeaks document which was already on the Web!  As he put it: “two DS agents stated that the inclusion of that link amounted to disclosing classified material. In other words, a link to a document posted by who-knows-who on a public website available at this moment to anyone in the world was the legal equivalent of me stealing a Top Secret report, hiding it under my coat, and passing it to a Chinese spy in a dark alley.”

Van Buren goes on to analyze the situation by stating: “Let’s think through this disclosure of classified info thing, even if State won’t. Every website on the Internet includes links to other websites. It’s how the web works. If you include a link to say, a CNN article about Libya, you are not “disclosing” that information — it’s already there. You’re just saying: “Have a look at this.”  It’s like pointing out a newspaper article of interest to a guy next to you on the bus.  (Careful, though, if it’s an article from the New York Times or the Washington Post.  It might quote stuff from Wikileaks and then you could be endangering national security.)”

And, for me, the cherry on the top, and something I’ve been trying to state for most of the last year (including at the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York meeting in January 2011), is the fact that “No one will ever be fired at State because of WikiLeaks — except, at some point, possibly me. Instead, State joined in the Federal mugging of Army Private Bradley Manning, the person alleged to have copied the cables onto a Lady Gaga CD while sitting in the Iraqi desert. That all those cables were available electronically to everyone from the Secretary of State to a lowly Army private was the result of a clumsy post-9/11 decision at the highest levels of the State Department to quickly make up for information-sharing shortcomings. Trying to please an angry Bush White House, State went from sharing almost nothing to sharing almost everything overnight. They flung their whole library onto the government’s classified intranet, SIPRnet, making it available to hundreds of thousands of Federal employees worldwide. . . . . State did not restrict access. If you were in, you could see it all. There was no safeguard to ask why someone in the Army in Iraq in 2010 needed to see reporting from 1980s Iceland. . . . . Most for-pay porn sites limit the amount of data that can be downloaded. Not State. Once those cables were available on SIPRnet, no alarms or restrictions were implemented so that low-level users couldn’t just download terabytes of classified data. If any activity logs were kept, it does not look like anyone checked them.

In other words, by pointing the finger of blame at a few (two) bad apples (Pfc Manning and Foreign Services Officer/ Author Van Buren), “… gets rid of a “troublemaker,” and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security people can claim that they are “doing something” about the WikiLeaks drip that continues even while they fiddle.”  Yet, the State Department and the Department of Defense still refuse to acknowledge the systemic problems of trying to provide UNRESTRICTED and UNTRACEABLE ACCESS to ALL CABLES to all LEVELS of employees from the highest administrative levels at State and Defense  to the lowliest of the low  (Private first class on probation or a contractor, like Aaron Barr, working in White Hat or Black Hat Ops.)  Okay, according to Homeland Security Today, there’s 3 million people (not just Americans, btw) with “secret” clearance and “only” half a million with access to SIPRNet!

This still strikes me as an example of the US acting like ostriches and burying its head so we will not have to acknowledge the serious problems that are all around us.  Mark my words: the system is still broken, and even though certain changes have been instituted (thumb drive bans), we have a much more serious and systemic problem which few dare to acknowledge.  What’s the solution?  Better appraisal and better records management!

No one will ever be fired at State because of WikiLeaks — except, at some point, possibly me. Instead, State joined in the Federal mugging of Army Private Bradley Manning, the person alleged to have copied the cables onto a Lady Gaga CD while sitting in the Iraqi desert. That all those cables were available electronically to everyone from the Secretary of State to a lowly Army private was the result of a clumsy post-9/11 decision at the highest levels of the State Department to quickly make up for information-sharing shortcomings. Trying to please an angry Bush White House, State went from sharing almost nothing to sharing almost everything overnight. They flung their whole library onto the government’s classified intranet, SIPRnet, making it available to hundreds of thousands of Federal employees worldwide.

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