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Pentagon to add security after leak

Nov. 30, 2010

By Anne Gearan
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Striking back, the Obama administration branded the WikiLeaks release of more than a quarter-million sensitive files an attack on the United States Monday and raised the prospect of criminal prosecutions in connection with the exposure. The Pentagon detailed new security safeguards, including restraints on small computer flash drives, to make it harder for any one person to copy and reveal so many secrets.

Bradley Manning, the young Army Pfc. suspected of stealing the diplomatic memos, many of them classified, and feeding them to WikiLeaks has not been charged in the latest release of internal U.S. government documents. But officials said he is the prime suspect partly because of his own description of how he pulled off a staggering heist of classified and restricted material.

"No one suspected a thing," Manning told a confidant afterward, according to a log of his computer chat published by Wired.com. "I didn't even have to hide anything."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted Monday that WikiLeaks acted illegally in posting the material.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the government was mounting a criminal investigation, and the Pentagon was tightening access to information, including restricting the use of computer storage devices such as CDs and flash drives.

Holder said the latest disclosure, involving classified and sensitive State Department documents, jeopardized the security of the nation, its diplomats, intelligence assets and relationships with foreign governments.

A weary-looking Clinton agreed.

"I want you to know that we are taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information," Clinton said. She spoke in between calls to foreign capitals to make amends for scathing and gossipy memos never meant for foreign eyes.

Manning is charged in military court with taking other classified material later published by the online clearinghouse WikiLeaks. It is not clear whether others such as WikiLeaks executives might be charged separately in civilian courts.

In his Internet chat, Manning described the conditions as lax to the point that he could bring a homemade music CD to work with him, erase the music and replace it with secrets. He told the computer hacker who would turn him in that he lip-synched along with pop singer Lady Gaga's hit "Telephone" while making off with "possibly the largest data spillage in American history."

Wired.com published a partial log of Manning's discussions with hacker R. Adrian Lamo in June.

"Weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counterintelligence, inattentive signal analysis," Manning wrote. "A perfect storm."

His motive, according to the chat logs: "I want people to see the truth ... because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public."

He was arrested shortly after those chats last spring. He was moved in July to the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia to await trial on the earlier charges and could face up to 52 years in a military prison if convicted.

Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the WikiLeaks experience has encouraged discussion within the military about how better to strike a balance between sharing information with those who need it and protecting it from disclosure.

So far, he said, Pentagon officials are not reviewing who has access to data but focusing instead on installing technical safeguards.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the WikiLeaks case revealed vulnerable seams in the information-sharing systems used by multiple government agencies. Some of those joint systems were designed to answer another problem: the failure of government agencies to share what they knew before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"These efforts to give diplomatic, military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists quicker and easier access to greater amounts of data have had unintended consequences," Whitman said.

Dale Meyerrose, former chief information officer for the U.S. intelligence community, said Monday that it will never be possible to completely stop such breaches.

"This is a personnel security issue, more than it is a technical issue," said Meyerrose, now a vice president at Harris Corp. "How can you prevent a pilot from flying the airplane into the ground? You can't. Anybody you give access to can become a disgruntled employee or an ideologue that goes bad."

Former CIA director Michael Hayden warned the latest leak will affect what other governments are willing to share with the U.S. as well as change the way U.S. officials share information among themselves.

"You're going to put a lot less in cables now," he said.