Earlier versions of this article incorrectly stated that Pentagon officials said Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning had gone through a breakup with a girlfriend shortly before allegedly leaking classified documents to the WikiLeaks Web site. Officials said only that Manning had gone through a breakup. This version has been corrected.
Memo asks agencies to review security in WikiLeaks' wake
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 10:15 PM
A memo sent this week to government security officials details how they should conduct security reviews of sensitive or classified information as the Obama administration attempts to safeguard against future leaks to the information-sharing Web site WikiLeaks and other news organizations.
Among about 100 questions, the memo asks how agencies are measuring the "trustworthiness" of employees with access to sensitive information and whether workers must report whenever they have contact with news reporters.
In the wake of an unprecedented document dump that is straining U.S. diplomatic relations in some corners of the world, the administration ordered agencies last month to ensure that unauthorized employees do not get access to classified or sensitive information. The Office of Management and Budget also warned federal employees to steer clear of viewing classified documents published by WikiLeaks or other news organizations.
Further instructions sent this week by OMB to top government security officials asks them to review the 100 questions to help assess "what your agency has done or plans to do to address any perceived vulnerabilities, weaknesses, or gaps on automated systems in the post-WikiLeaks environment," according to the memo.
In a nod to the concerns surrounding Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who allegedly was WikiLeaks's source, the administration wants to know whether agencies are able to measure trustworthiness among employees without alienating them, the memo said.
It asks whether psychiatrists or sociologists are employed to measure workers' relative happiness as a means to gauge trustworthiness and whether they consider despondence or grumpiness as warning signs.
The idea is that such monitoring might have stopped Manning, who is accused of leaking classified videos and documents to a former hacker. Although the military hasn't leveled specific charges against him, officials say Manning had been demoted in rank by the Army shortly before allegedly leaking the information. Officials also say Manning had gone through a breakup.
Agencies were also asked to detail how they determine who has access to classified information on automated computer systems and whether all employees are required to report any contacts with news reporters.
The review "was very likely in the aftermath of WikiLeaks," said Sean Moulton, director of federal information policy at OMB Watch, a nonpartisan organization that tracks federal budgetary and regulatory policy.
"It's pretty reasonable for them to at least take a look at the protocols they had in place," Moulton said. But he added that some of the questions asked - including the one regarding contact with reporters - indicate the potential for an unnecessarily severe clampdown on information distribution.
"It's not that the system is massively broken," Moulton said, noting that authorities think Manning acted alone.
Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, said the ongoing review "takes for granted the existing classification system, which almost everybody agrees is decrepit and broken."
"I really don't see the kind of systemic reform that would protect the real secrets and push everything out into the public domain," Blanton said.
Transparency advocates have long argued that the government unnecessarily protects too much information from public distribution.
The reviews must be completed by Jan. 28, and officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence may visit agencies to meet with security officials about the process, the memo says.
Results of the reviews will face scrutiny from House Republicans, who are planning to probe whether the administration did enough to prevent WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from receiving and posting the information.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said this week that he plans to ask top administration officials, including national security adviser Tom Donilon, to testify about whether the administration has a strategy to stop the unauthorized dissemination of sensitive information.