Access To Classified Information And The Need To Know

In the federal government, especially in the Departments of Defense and State, it is etched in stone that access to classified information is only shared on a “need to know” basis. If you don’t need the information to do your job, access to it is not made available to you. If you do need it, it is freely shared with you. There is no need to balance between security and information-sharing. Security comes first and last.

There is no intelligent reason under God’s heaven why a Private First Class like Bradley Manning, who obviously had no requirement for it, would ever need access to the DOD information and the 250,000 State Department cables that he, in his naïve arrogance, compromised. Never before in the history of the nation has so much unauthorized classified information been so foolishly released.

But the problem is not just with Manning who betrayed his nation or with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks who enabled the betrayal. The problem is with those who compromised an intelligence system that has worked well and protected our country’s secrets since before WWII. This has nothing to do with classified information not being properly shared prior to 9-11. It has to do with a failure to use common sense and to follow traditional tried and proven procedures for the protecting of classified information. Isn’t it time to put the old rules back in place?

Perhaps Pfc Manning has unwittingly done the nation a service. His actions should cause us to ask just how many others, over the years, have been copying and releasing our nation’s classified information to those who do not wish our country well? All sorts of secrets concerning diplomatic relations with other countries and the development of military weapons systems, including advances in Weapons of Mass Destruction, may have been compromised.

Unfortunately there is no indication that the Obama Administration understands the urgency to investigate the full ramifications of this failure to protect national secrets. It seems to be just business as usual at the White House when instead heads should be rolling at the top levels, starting in the offices of the Secretaries of State and Defense. Surely after six months we should have done more to stop future releases by WikiLeaks than issuing press releases or writing limpid letters.

Why has the Attorney General taken so long to react and why do both he and Obama seem bored with it all? Don’t they realize that this is neither a game nor some silly joke? It is a serious matter and the lives of our military and our intelligence agents and allies may be forfeited. Worst case, the diplomacy of the nation may be placed in jeopardy.

From the first WikiLeaks should have been treated like the terrorist organization enabler it is, and Assange should have been declared a terrorist. The Attorney General shouldn’t have hesitated to freeze WikiLeak’s assets, pick up their personnel for questioning, shut down their U.S. operations and, if the allegations against them proved to be true, release the full fury of a cyberattack against them.

Some would say that these are over reactions. Whether they are will not be known until we know the extent of the damage done. What is apparent is that WikiLeaks is a clear and present danger to the U.S. and our allies and should be treated as such. Also apparent is that it should never have been possible for Manning, whose security access is toilet level, to be able to openly copy classified material onto portable unclassified devices as alleged. And the State Department should never have made such massive amounts of data available to anyone for the copying.

Some will insist that a thorough review of classification procedures is necessary to prevent Pfcs’ from having unlimited access to the Department of Defense’s and State’s classified information. Eventually that does need to be done. But right now is the time for simple, common sense decision making.

For decades we’ve managed to properly secure classified information. We can fix what’s broke without reinventing the wheel. Let’s simply go back to, “Access is based on the need to know.”