By Marc Ambinder – 7 october 2011
By executive order, President Obama will instruct federal agencies today to better safeguard their classified secrets, to set up internal audit systems, and to make sure that reluctance to share critical intelligence in the aftermath of the WikiLeaks exposure does not hamper collaboration across agencies.
The so-called “WikiLeaks” executive order has been long awaited by the national security establishment and by the privacy and civil liberties communities. It was provided by the White House to National Journal. The order creates a government-wide steering committee to create and assess information sharing policies across the government, as well as a mechanism to determine whether internal auditing procedures work properly.
PFC. Bradley Manning, who the government believes provided WikiLeaks with most of the classified cables and reports it released, was able to access State Department cables that were not germane to his work as a forward-deployed intelligence analyst in Iraq without being detected.
A new Insider Threat Task Force led by the Attorney General will develop a government-wide strategy to see whether agencies that handle classified information can weed out the malcontents and people whose behavior suggests they cannot handle sensitive information appropriately.
The result will be a beefing up of federal counter-intelligence programs.
The intelligence community has worried about an over-reaction, reasoning that analysts who want more access to classified information to solve a problem will second-guess their own efforts because they don’t want to trigger an investigation. The order does not specify how agencies ought to strike this balance, but suggests that each agency should establish policies that incorporate their own internal cultures, bearing in mind that the larger goal is to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
Obama’s executive order makes agencies primarily responsible for the information they obtain and share.
It also creates a Classified Information Sharing and Safeguarding Office to develop institutional knowledge about best practices across the government. This office will provide staff for the inter-agency steering committee, according to a White House fact sheet.
The executive order is the result of several months worth of a deliberation by a high-level task force formed after of the WikiLeaks disclosure. The government has taken several steps to prevent WikiLeaks-like incidents from happening again, including limiting the number of people with access to removable flash drives in classified environments and commencing a government-wide survey of existing internal auditing procedures.