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Officials condemn leaks, detail prevention efforts

WASHINGTON -- Government officials condemned the publication of hundreds of thousands of sensitive, classified State Department cables by WikiLeaks Nov. 28.

The website published the documents that detail private U.S. diplomatic discussions with foreign governments. The cables are candid reports by diplomats, and seen by themselves, can give an incomplete picture of the relationship between the U.S. and the foreign governments, White House officials said.

The cables are not expressions of policy, nor do they always shape final policy decisions, officials said.

"Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only U.S. foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

"To be clear, such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government," he said.

The release of the documents may risk the lives of diplomats and friends living under repressive regimes.

The U.S. stands for responsible, open government at home and around the world, Mr. Gibbs said.

"This reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal," he said. "By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals. We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information."

Today's posting is the third WikiLeaks publication of sensitive U.S. documents. The last publication included military and intelligence reports from Afghanistan, and another contained similar documents from Iraq. Newspaper and magazine journalists in the U.S. and Europe received and reviewed the documents from WikiLeaks and have written stories on their content.

Pentagon officials have put in place methods to minimize such thefts of classified materials.

"It is now much more difficult for a determined actor to get access to and move information outside of authorized channels," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, following publication of news articles on the documents Nov. 28.

The theft of the materials traces to the lack of sharing of information and intelligence prior to and after the Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks, officials said.

The commission studying the environment at the time found that agencies weren't sharing enough information with each other.

While stopping short of saying better sharing could have prevented the attacks, the 9/11 Commission pointed this out as a weakness that needed to be closed.

Federal officials responded by working to push out more information and intelligence in an effort to strike a balance between the "need to know" and the need to "share to win."

"Departments and agencies have taken significant steps to reduce those obstacles, and the work that has been done to date has resulted in considerable improvement in information-sharing and increased cooperation across government operations," Mr. Whitman said.

The effort backfired in that it made it easier for individuals or groups inside the process to steal the information.

DOD officials said they responded by putting in place policies to prevent such occurrences, while still giving information and intelligence to the people who need it most: those confronting the realities of terrorism.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered two reviews of information and intelligence sharing in August.

The review called on DOD systems to disable all "write" capability for removable media on classified computers to mitigate the risks of personnel moving classified data to unclassified systems, Mr. Whitman said.

The reviews also direct DOD organizations to have a limited number of systems authorized to move data from classified to unclassified systems, he said.

Officials within DOD organizations are also implementing two-person handling rules for moving data from classified to unclassified systems to ensure proper oversight and reduce chances of unauthorized release of classified material, Mr. Whitman said.

DOD officials are also taking a page from credit card companies which monitor patterns and detect suspicious or anomalous behavior. Some 60 percent of DOD's classified net is now using a host-based security system -- an automated way of controlling the computer system with a capability of monitoring unusual data access or usage.

Department officials are speeding deployment to the rest of the classified system, Mr. Whitman said.

In addition, department officials are conducting security oversight inspections in forward-deployed areas, undertaking vulnerability assessments of DOD networks and improving awareness and compliance with information protection procedures.

U.S. Central Command, for example, has increased insider threat training for its intelligence professionals and started multidiscipline training between traditional security, law enforcement and information assurance at all echelons.

Command officials also have established insider threat working groups to address the WikiLeaks incident and prevent reoccurrence.