Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WikiLeaks verifies as well as reveals

It has become the one story that could possibly overshadow the midterm elections in 2010.

The controversy swirling around WikiLeaks and its leading public face, Julian Assange, has grown to near-epic proportions. Up until recently, I have made a point to avoid forming and expressing a hard opinion on this story. I’ve been of the mindset shared by Glenn Beck and the folks at I’m a bit torn on the subject.

Undoubtedly, the release of so much classified information invariably will have damaging effects on national security – which assuredly will trickle down to some extent onto our troops overseas. For this, I agree that some action deserves to be taken against Assange.

On the other hand, I am reluctant to assign Assange the title of Public Enemy No. 1 – as opposed to World’s Most (Over-)Glorified Computer Geek. If there is one thing American society has come to understand it is the potential danger for our government to enjoy the degree of secrecy it has in recent decades. Assange’s operation has taken a healthy bite out of that setup.

I’ve been holding out on commenting to any real length on this topic for several reasons, not the least of which has been to avoid the appearance of being anti-military. Also, knee-jerk reactions tend to contain erroneous conclusions on any given topic.

And then there is the fact – if I have heard in the news correctly – that to date WikiLeaks has released in excess of 90,000 documents and 250,000 diplomatic cables which totaled in terms of disk storage to nearly 5 gigabytes of data. No single human being has the time and wherewithal to even attempt to individually sift through all that information and glean from that body a definitive pattern of activity.

As a result, I have allowed myself to rely on traditional and digital media to sort out the story for me. Obviously, temperance is a must.

But, the news I’ve caught to date actually has done more – albeit unintentionally – than alert me to vast amounts of raw information being revealed to the world at large. It has served to verify a perspective I have held for some time: the Department of Homeland Security is a colossal waste of taxpayer money ($42.6 billion in fiscal year 2010) and does far more of a disservice than any perceived benefit to our society.

That was particularly reinforced by a McClatchy News article that ran last week in the Columbus Dispatch. According to McClatchy, one item published at WikiLeaks was a collection of information titled the Critical Foreign Dependencies Initiative. This project entailed analyzing public and private operations – in as many as 60 countries around the world – which are viewed as vital to U.S. interests, such as oil and gas pipelines, rare metal mining sites, undersea cable communication stations, vaccine production facilities, and other seemingly unrelated outfits deemed important to America.

The article mentioned how publication of the list “has infuriated U.S. officials.” The primary concern is that this Initiative now has served as a convenient index of potential targets for organizations such as al Qaeda.

What is being ignored, however, is the simple truth. This situation reveals the undeniable danger that comes with DHS’s core purpose: centralization of information relating to national security.

By compiling the CFDI laundry list of various sensitive locations – presumably collected through input from the customary source agencies and departments such as the Pentagon, State Department, CIA, and NSA – our brain-trust in Washington essentially made it that much easier for someone such as Private First Class Bradley Manning to compromise this aspect of national security in the most efficient manner possible.

Those around the world who are a genuine threat to do harm to the United States just had all the legwork done for them. Al Qaeda operatives, not having to be burdened with trying to steal sensitive documents on their own and then sift through the digital reams for any useful intelligence, have been freed-up to start directly putting this information to good use.

Essentially, with the unintended aid of Washington bureaucrats Osama bin Laden has outsourced his espionage needs.

Related side notes

Now, in addition to decrying the pitfalls of attempting to unify all the various sources of classified knowledge, I am reminded of my other charge against DHS: when lives were on the line, its collection of minds failed – at least twice of which we know – to meet that objective.

First, there was the Fort Hood massacre in November of last year. Both the U.S. Army and FBI (at the very least) had information on Nidal Hasan that warranted further investigation and surveillance, but as we’ve been able to see since then rampant political correctness prevented any effective action until after 13 of his fellow American soldiers lay dead.

Then, on Christmas Day 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to bring down a commercial airliner from the skies over Detroit. Both the CIA and State Department were aware of the “Underpants Bomber,” but this information was not effectively coordinated in the manner we have been led to believe we could rely on DHS to perform.

How much more failure do we have to have before we begin working on $42.6 billion in savings?

Next up…

The overall WikiLeaks story holds technical points that just don’t add up. Not the least of which is how a private first class (Manning) was able to get his hands on 5 gigabytes of classified information.

To put that in slightly clearer perspective, an Army Pfc. is an E-3 pay grade on a scale that ranges from E-2 to E-9. Basically, Pfc. Manning is (or perhaps before long, was) one rank above someone fresh out of boot camp (for my fellow sailors, remember that the U.S. Navy is the only branch of the service which does not automatically advance people to E-2 upon completion of boot camp).

The most pressing question at this point is where was his chain of command during that process? Also, how did the U.S. Army fail to establish security measures one would reasonably expect in order to prevent such an en masse download of files? Or, if there were such measures in place, how was he able to bypass them?

Common sense dictates something just does not add up.

One thing with Manning, though, is certain. This Pfc. has made a celebrity of someone (Assange) who is/was/is nothing more than a glorified computer geek. But, he certainly does have nice hair.

No comments:

Post a Comment