CIPHER BRIEF REPORTING – Just inside the Pentagon, there is a wall of small lockers with keys and combination locks. This is one of many locations where people frequently place their cell phones after entering. Before approaching more guarded areas, employees are asked to leave their phones at the entrance.
The causes behind that might be apparent. However, last week, as Pentagon officials rushed to identify a significant security breach and reassure concerned U.S. partners, they simultaneously started scrutinising current security practises that allegedly allowed a collection of intelligence slides to be taken and shared on social media.
Lieutenant General Robert Ashley (Ret.), the former director of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), said, “If you go into a SCIF, or any kind of facility that has classified information, then your phone does not go with you.”
Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, is a secure area where people with clearances can access information that is classified. In order to protect against surveillance efforts, DNI maintains exact technical standards for such locations, including building designs, restrictions on transmitters, and even biometric readers. These standards include using air-gapped networks, which physically isolate computers from external Internet connections.
Therefore, cameras that connect to an outside signal are very difficult. In fact, it is strictly forbidden to use any electronic equipment that can be used to take pictures or record audio.
It broadcasts. According to Lt. Gen. Ashley, it contains an active microphone. “[A phone] does not go in a SCIF,” says the speaker.
These facilities have historically been utilised to review some of the most private security data in the country. A significant number of those files may have been prepared as part of a briefing book by the Joint Staff’s intelligence arm, known as the J2, which operates in SCIFs, based on the markings that appear on the leaked documents.
The systems were described by Javed Ali, a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official and Cypher Brief Expert, as part of a discussion on efforts to reduce the number of potential offenders. “Those products only reside on top secret SCI [Sensitive Compartmented Information] computer systems,” he said. But those Joint Staff briefings, he continued, are produced by “dozens, if not hundreds of people.” In addition, once officially approved and distributed, “we’re talking thousands, if not tens of thousands of people who might be getting these on a daily basis.” Ali pointed out that despite this, “they had to have originated at some point within a SCIF.”
Who had access to those briefing slides on that specific day, he then posed the question?
“This is a classic case of a needle in a haystack.”
The Pentagon’s internal review process, which includes representatives from legislative affairs, public affairs, policy, legal counsel, and the joint staff, is apparently being led by Milancy D. Harris, deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence and security.
The current attitude is one of “doubling-down,” according to Lt. Gen. Ashley. “This is being discussed by all leaders in the [intelligence community].”
More information is now becoming available regarding the documents themselves, including those that allegedly had crumpled creases that may have been corrected by the offender before to being photographed.
Beth Sanner, a former Deputy Director for National Intelligence at ODNI and a former briefer to President Trump, stated, “To me, the creased and folded means they ripped it out of something, took it out of something, or printed it.” “You would have to physically take a picture of them, or scan them, to put them on the Internet.”
She explained that one approach might be to “fold it up, stick in your jacket, [and] go to the toilet,” for instance, to take pictures of the paperwork.
She continued, “It wouldn’t be strange for someone to walk to another office from one of those offices with a briefing book full of classified information.” “It would be strange to leave the building carrying that. However, a lot of people do that, she added. “No one is checking. There are sporadic spot checks. but not often. The system is influenced by culture.
At the Pentagon, there are about 24,000 military, civilian, and 3,000 non-defense support staff working.
In the end, trust is the key. You established numerous methods. None of them will be definitive, according to Lt. Gen. Ashley. “You can install electronic equipment inside buildings that will detect a phone attempting to connect to a mobile tower… But ultimately, you hire people for these positions on the basis of a high degree of trust, until otherwise demonstrated.
Throughout the years, “we’ve seen people with very high levels of clearance that have compromised and that have spied,” he continued. The anomalies are those.
And yet, according to experts, a closer examination of older systems is anticipated in the ongoing study. Sanner has written about one in particular, which is the reliance on paper in the intelligence community. She argues that classified electronic systems produce superior forensic data trails and security precautions like passwords and timed wipeout programmes, which basically set timers for data to be deleted from tablets or other devices.
Meanwhile, the discussion surrounding the phone has brought up a wider issue from 2018, when the Defence Department released a document calling for tougher adherence to procedures that required phones to be left outside sensitive locations. Following revelations that seemingly harmless devices, like fitness trackers, could be used to track troop locations and other highly-sensitive information, DOD authorities reportedly listed “laptops, tablets, cellular phones, smartwatches, and other devices” in a memo, emphasising the importance of adhering to standards.
Together, the leak and the method by which the records were obtained, according to a top Pentagon spokesman, pose a “very serious risk to national security.”
Security professionals, however, believe that this was probably not a typical insider threat.
Former senior member of the British Foreign Office and director general for international operations Nick Fishwick said, “If it was a hostile intelligence service, you’d want to keep your insider in place for as long as possible.” “Your insider doesn’t just start posting things online for the offended nation to see that it has a problem,”
“It’s possible that the Russians will believe that we will take a chance by making this public given the enormous value of doing so. But I don’t think that’s very plausible.
The leaks also contained “a serious level of inaccuracy,” according to a study from the British Ministry of Defence on Tuesday. Experts frequently view this as a hallmark of foreign misinformation campaigns, especially those run by or associated with Moscow.
Daniel Hoffman, a former senior officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, where he worked as a three-time station chief and a senior executive Clandestine Services officer, explained that the Russians achieve it by taking a lot of real facts and then sprinkling in their propaganda.
One such instance, he said, took place during the height of the Cold War, when a number of Soviet operations played into public mistrust of American institutions and rumours of covert biological warfare programmes. Thomas Boghardt, a historian at the U.S. Army Centre of Military History, called this “one of the most successful Soviet disinformation campaigns,” which falsely linked the AIDS virus to military research carried out at the Fort Detrick Laboratory.
During the more recent Covid-19 outbreak, foreign foes launched similar operations.
Hoffman remarked, “This is how the Russians have done things in the past.” Was that what they did in this instance? I’m not sure.
The case, however, also differs noticeably from other recent prominent insider breaches.
These images appear to be hard copies of briefing slides that have been circulating across social media platforms, including Twitter, Telegram, and Discord, a popular gaming platform, in contrast to the cases of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning and NSA systems contractor Edward Snowden, who sucked terabytes worth of documents off classified networks into portable devices.
Additionally, it appears that the scope is currently much smaller.
Sanner remarked, “With Snowden, we lost all kinds of sources and NSA techniques. “There are only a very few documents in this collection. Furthermore, it is finished intelligence rather than an intercept. It is an analytical piece that contains data from various sources.
“This has considerably more tactical and specific ramifications. It’s not systemic, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be profound in some aspects. It’s not like we need to change our algorithm in some way, she said.
After pausing, Sanner continued, “probably.”
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