Wikileaks Backlash Could Mean Less Data for Soldiers
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Date posted: 08/08/2010
Posted by: Site Administration
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Augmenting Organics

The disclosure of 92,000 Afghanistan war documents by Wikileaks was made possible partly by a relatively recent effort by the military to get fresh intelligence data to frontline forces. The idea was that the information would better prepare the troops for ever-changing guerilla conditions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the breach probably will lead the Pentagon to limit the distribution of such material. Although that could help prevent future leaks, it could also restrict the flow of potentially lifesaving information to soldiers.

Prior to the release of the documents, access to the network for classified information, known as the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), was quite loose. Soldiers would need a security clearance to log in. But once logged in, they might not have met any further controls--such as a brake on how many documents any individual could download. "Technical safeguards that are in place stateside were not necessarily implemented downrange," says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense and security think-tank.

What's more, the dedicated SIPRNet terminals used by soldiers in the field were not necessarily available only to people with credentials. Brian Slaughter, who was a lieutenant and platoon leader in Iraq, says soldiers might log in but not log out, which meant other soldiers could go in and view data. "So who knows who is really accessing it at this point?" he says. "There is a certain level of trust at the lower tactical echelons that users accessing data via SIPRNet have the best interests of their fellow soldiers at heart."

He added: "The nature of the environment we operate in forces leaders to place a certain amount of trust in their soldiers. With that trust comes a small amount of risk. In this case a soldier may have taken advantage of that."

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