How apropos that on the heels of the publication of one of the better ideas out there on how to improve the quality and accessibility of intelligence to consumers, we hear reports that the leadership of the IC wants to roll back the intelligence sharing clock.
Let’s be clear: blaming Private Manning and Wikileaks for a chilling effect on sharing is a red herring. Everyone in this business knew that the second capabilities like Intelink went live that the power of one individual to provide unauthorized sources access to wide swaths of classified material that they would previously not have had access to went through the roof. Such systems made Security and Counterintelligence pros shudder, because seeking and exploiting access to classified information above or beyond what you were authorized to access is a classic indicator of potential espionage.
There is also something ironic about senior individuals who talk to people who are not authorized to receive classified information (e.g. reporters) off the record and on background, railing against people who talk to reporters off the record and on background. What they are really saying is: “We don’t like it when someone exposes information that runs counter to the controlled message we are trying to get out.” If you’re not down with exposing classified information to ANYONE not authorized to receive it, you shouldn’t be down with exposing classified information to EVERYONE not authorized to receive it. Anything else is simple hypocrisy.
Of course nothing in this town is so straight forward, and not considering the gray area is considered woefully naïve, so let’s break it down into what I hope are reasonably easy to understand and acceptable chunks:
Leaks of any sort would be a lot less dangerous if we reformed the classification system. A system that didn’t overclassify or needlessly classify information could concentrate all-too-scarce security resources on protecting what truly needed to be kept from unauthorized personnel.
Intelligence, sadly, is a political football. All sides of a given argument will play with it to make their point. If you, the people and party in power are not going to stop using it thusly, then stop making boogie men out of your political opponents who do. Lay down some ground rules about what is judicious and what is foolish – punish egregious infractions – and may the best team win.
Private Manning is not a political opponent or foreign threat. He never should have been in the Army, much less in the job he had, so making his actions seem more than what they are – the misguided, ill-conceived actions of a child – and using it as an excuse to suspend (or worse, walk back) sharing initiatives is so disingenuous it would be laughable if it were not so serious. You’re going to make it harder for consumers to get what they need because of some OD green s***-bird?! WTF IMI
If you’re concerned about the pressures technology is and will place on security, and the implications that has on protecting classified information, then make a serious effort to understand how to leverage both the ability to deliver and the ability to monitor digital information and its consumption. Cutting zillion dollar contracts that end up late, short, or just plain fail isn’t the answer; taking the time to find people who actually understand the issues and the technology is. The alternative is to keep pretending that you can kick the can down the road, thereby becoming increasingly irrelevant to both warfighters and policymakers. The effective death of the IC won’t be caused by insufficient or incorrect information; it’ll be caused by the cumbersome hoops one will have to jump through to reach its products, compared with other data sources of sufficient quality and accuracy to get the job done.