Skip to main content

Previous WikiLeaks release forced tighter security for U.S. military

By Adam Levine, CNN
Click to play
Fallout over latest WikiLeaks release
  • Document security reviewed after previous WikiLeaks disclosures
  • Pentagon says new safeguards make leaks "much more difficult"
  • Troops got more access to classified documents after 9/11 attacks

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. military has tried to close the security gaps that it believes allowed a low-level military intelligence analyst to steal hundreds of thousands of classified documents and ultimately give them to the WikiLeaks website.

Since the first batch of documents was published earlier this year, military officials have warned that they need to balance the security and limited access with the need for troops around the world to be able to see the latest, raw intelligence.

"In the wake of this incident, it will be a real challenge to strike the right balance between security and providing our frontline troops the information they need," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said after WikiLeaks published a trove of documents about the war in Afghanistan.

"We want those soldiers in a forward operating base to have all the information they possibly can have that impacts on their own security but also being able to accomplish their mission."

After the WikiLeaks publications, Gates ordered two reviews of document security, according to Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. As a result, stricter rules and more limiting technology has been used to help close the gaps while maintaining that balance, he said.

Where WikiLeaks and 'don't ask' may meet
New leaks in 'public's interest'
WikiLeaks holds back -- some

"Bottom line: It is now much more difficult for a determined actor to get access to and move information outside of authorized channels," Whitman wrote in an e-mail to reporters Sunday.

In the short term, Whitman said, computers within the Department of Defense classified system have been disabled from any ability to record and download information "as a temporary technical solution to mitigate the future risks of personnel moving classified data to unclassified systems."

The ability to access classified information was instituted in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks as a way to promote intra-agency cooperation. Known in the government as Net-Centric Diplomacy, the initiative is meant to give those on the front lines a full range of details from diplomatic and military communications. It is this system that Pfc. Bradley Manning is charged with exploiting to download documents and slip them to WikiLeaks.

A U.S. soldier who served in Iraq, Manning has been charged with illegally transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The 22-year-old is suspected of having downloaded thousands of other documents from a server in Iraq.

Manning is currently being held by the military in Quantico, Virginia, as he awaits trial. According to the charges against him, he was able to not only download documents for which he had clearance but was able to gain access to information that "knowingly exceeded his authorization access."

The Defense Department also has restricted the number of systems where data can be moved from a classified computer to an unclassified computer, and now it takes two people in order to move data "to ensure proper oversight and reduce chances of unauthorized release of classified material."

The Pentagon is developing methods to monitors suspicious behavior, "similar to procedures now being used by credit card companies to detect and monitor fraud," Whitman explained.

Still, there are some changes that have yet to be installed systemwide. A monitoring system to alert to unusual access of data is only overseeing 60 percent of the classified system, according to Whitman, although the installation of the monitoring system is being accelerated.

The Pentagon also has increased training to make staff more aware of "insider threat," Whitman said.