By Robert Brodsky
November 29, 2010On the heels of Sunday's unauthorized disclosure of a quarter million confidential State Department documents, the Obama administration has directed federal agencies to initiate an immediate review of their protocols for safeguarding sensitive information.
In a Nov. 28 governmentwide memo, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob "Jack" Lew ordered all agencies that handle classified documents to establish security assessment teams to look over their policies against improper disclosures.
The teams, which would consist of counterintelligence, security and information assurance experts, should ensure users do not have unnecessarily broad access to classified government systems, the memo said. The teams also should examine agency standards for restricting the use and removal of removable media devices from classified computer networks.
OMB, the Information Security Oversight Office and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will lead the review process.
"Protecting information critical to our nation's security is the responsibility of each individual who is granted access to classified information," Lew wrote. "Any unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a violation of our law and compromises our national security."
Agency failures to safeguard classified information are "unacceptable and will not be tolerated," he added.
OMB distributed the memo hours after WikiLeaks, an online whistleblower group, released to five international media entities thousands of previously classified State Department cables. The documents provide raw, unguarded -- and often politically embarrassing -- assessments from U.S. diplomats and other global leaders regarding allies and enemies.
One cable described Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as "feckless" and "vain" while German Chancellor Angela Merkel was derided as "risk-averse and rarely creative."
Many of the documents focused on Iran, with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pressing the United States to "cut off the head of the snake" by taking military action against Iran's nuclear program. "They have to be dealt with before they do something tragic," added Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, United Arab Emirates' deputy defense chief.
The documents are widely believed to have been stolen by Pvt. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is now in jail, using a thumb drive, a device for storing and transferring data. Manning was charged in July with violating federal statutes relating to the release of classified information, wrongfully accessing a government computer network and violating Army regulations.
The White House condemned the disclosures, saying they put the lives of diplomats, intelligence professionals and those seeking U.S. aid, at risk.
"By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. "It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions. Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only U.S. foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world."
On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced WikiLeaks was under criminal investigation and could face prosecution.
"To the extent that we can find anybody who was involved in the breaking of American law; who put at risk the assets and the people I have described, they will be held responsible," Holder said during a morning news conference. "They will be held accountable."
By Robert Brodsky
November 29, 2010