Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Suspect Intelligence

Here's a thought. Most of the cables released by wikileaks aren't classified. 54% were unclassified, 40% were confidential and the remaining 6% had a higher designation. Most came from a network called SIPRNet, which is a major conduit for shared information since 9/11.

While the data is tagged as being from that source, it actually is unknown who obtained the data. Bradley Manning is a prime suspect, mostly based on the leak of the helicopter video and the testimony of Adrian Lamo. I think Manning has provided material (classified or otherwise) to Assange, but probably not the bulk of what wikileaks showed the press. He may be being used as a fall guy, and I think even with a fairly low rank, he could have seen a lot of unclassified material, but the breadth of the information along with the knowledge that it is far more than Manning (or Lamo said Manning) claimed to have downloaded makes me doubtful that there is a single source.

While the Intertubz are abuzz with words like "hacking", no special technical knowledge needs to have been employed to get this information. If the reader had legitimate access to the network, and potentially up to 2.5 million people do, then copying information is all that it takes. Manning's own description didn't involve technical know-how, just some thinking about how to copy stuff without being noticed. Can you copy/paste? Can you burn information to a CD? (And, btw, that also makes me go hmm. There's CD burning software conveniently loaded onto classified, secured systems? What Sysadmin did that? On whose orders?) Then you, too, can take classified information.

The question here is not why did so-and-so have access to the data? This was a network of analysts whose job was to read and analyze the information. The question is who copied the data and distributed it? The answer is going to be more than a disgruntled Army Pfc. There's a big question about why the Iraq location seems to have been purposefully configured to allow data to be removed without auditing, which would take deliberate modification of systems, and something Manning doesn't claim to have done.

All in all, the way in which the data was obtained smells to high heaven. It reflects an attitude contemptuous of the actual work of diplomacy, which was clearly the stance of the previous administration. It smells of the actions of the Office of Special Plans.

The claims of immediate danger to operatives and informants is being pooh-poohed by exactly the people who screamed about that same kind of fallout in the Plame case. There are claims that this release of information will prevent crimes and atrocities, but that claim falls flat when the actual content is read. It is the stuff of embarrassment, and that can make a state reverse course on quiet negotiations that get incremental but vital gains. I see long-term fallout from the missives that will not be to the advantage of most people across the globe, such as a reversal of China's quiet disengagement from North Korea or heightening nationalist paranoia in Iran, thereby strengthening the hardliners. These kind of developments don't have the headline appeal of a privileged upper-middle class white male "rogue" informant standing up to "tyranny", but they will surely cause suffering, deprivation and death.

Those celebrating the release of these files are cheering for the deconstruction of diplomacy, and are short-sighted fools. These are not the Pentagon Papers, this is not a "cover up". This is the daily grind of the State Department. As I said before, the people benefiting from this release are those who see no need for diplomacy when you can invade, bomb and occupy.

I guess I am not one of those who thinks it is immoral for the US, or any other nation, to defend its interests and citizens, and fail to see how any of these releases advance any interests other than those of hardliners around the world.



Koshem Bos said...

You start from the motivation and work your way back towards potential culprit. There are other ways too. Personally, I am not particularly curious about the whole topic as long as it doesn't involve bread and butter issues.

The upcoming bank data may trigger my curiosity. It also may upset your argumentation. We'll see.

One technical issue, if I were responsible for the security of the data, I would log all pairs of eyes and every amount of data moving around. If this isn't done then security is nonexistent.

LBJ said...

My brother works at a DoD facility, and none of the computers in his building have a CD/DVD drive. While they do have USB ports, they have a custom version of Windows without drivers, so the USB ports don't work.

The only way to get a copy of anything off his computer or network is to take a picture of the screen, and no cameras are permitted in the building. Oh, and they don't have access to any intelligence information, just equipment test and maintenance things and the like.

The big question is, why aren't all computers connected to the SIPRNET treated in the same way?