Despite early fears that last year’s leak of 250,000 State Department cables to the website WikiLeaks would chill or reverse progress on interagency information sharing, the departments responsible for national security information have continued to exchange sensitive data. But these agencies realize that they need to direct it only to those who need it to do their jobs.
Intelligence community and State Department officials testified Thursday at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs where they tried to alleviate concerns about the impact of WikiLeaks. Committee chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) both expressed worries that the WikiLeaks episode would return national security agencies to a culture of information hoarding. The two co-sponsored legislation in 2004 instructing agencies to share their secrets with one another, citing recommendations by the 9/11 commission.
But Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary for management at State, told the committee that although it had stopped sending cables to the Defense Department database that ultimately became a source for WikiLeaks, it continued to push millions of messages to the intelligence community, DoD and other agencies via other channels.
“There has been a chilling effect on foreign governments’ willingness to share information with us,” he said. “But this unfortunate episode has not caused us to hold anything back [from other agencies.] We continue to share at the same rate we did before, because we know that our information is essentially the gold standard.”
And Corin Stone, the information sharing executive in the office of the Director of National Intelligence, said agencies in the intelligence community had responded by recognizing the need to boost security protocols around sensitive information, rather than ceasing to share it.
“Our reaction to WikiLeaks must be to increase protection, as well as increase sharing so that as we increase the protection we also increase the trust and confidence that people have that when they share their information appropriately, it will be protected,” she said. “We will know where the information is, we will be able to pull that information down if it’s inappropriately accessed, and we will be able to follow up with appropriate repercussions if and when it is misused. While [Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper was very concerned that this would have a chilling effect, we have all worked very hard across the government to ensure that it does not.”
Besides removing the State Department’s cables from its secret network, known as SIPRNet, the Defense Department has taken new steps to increase protection of classified data. Teri Takai, DoD’s chief information officer, said their first step was to make it more difficult to copy information from SIPRNet onto removable media such as CD-ROMs, as apparently happened in the case of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who is accused of passing the cables to WikiLeaks.
Takai said DoD had disabled the ability for 88 percent of the computers on DoD’s secret network to write to removable storage. The remaining 12 percent need the ability to write to CDs for operational reasons, but those machines are located at designated kiosks and require two people to operate, she said.
She said the department also was beginning to issue public key infrastructure-based smart cards that SIPRNet users will eventually have to use to log on to the network. She said the cards would be similar to the Common Access Cards (CAC) DoD employees now use to log on to the military’s unclassified network. These new smart cards for the SIPRNet would be a much more effective identity management tool than the username and password-based restrictions that are currently used to wall off parts of secret network.
Takai said the process of implementing the new cards, however, is delayed because of the high security requirements of any hardware that DoD uses in conjunction with SIPRNet.
“Our deployment is to actually get the physical cards and the physical readers installed on all the computers for those individuals who require access to SIPRNet,” she said. “Through the trusted foundry, we have a manufacturing process for those cards, and they only have a capacity for a certain number of cards, so that is a factor. Also, many of the computers where this is needed are in many locations around the globe.” She said DoD planned to have the 500,000 cards fully deployed by the end of 2012. By mid 2013, the department plans to make use of the new security credentials mandatory for all SIPRnet users.
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