WikiLeaks: How did the Pentagon lose track of 91,000 documents?
Military analysts say three trends involving technology, workplace culture, and the nature of modern warfare explain how WikiLeaks could have gotten so many classified Pentagon documents.
It could take months or years – and perhaps a court martial – before the full fallout of WikiLeaks' release of more than 90,000 secret documents is known. It could well take until the end of the war in Afghanistan, or at least until US and allied counterintelligence sources have done their work looking for evidence that the Taliban and Al Qaeda benefited from the revelations.Skip to next paragraph
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But for now, military analysts see important recent trends that help explain how the WikiLeaks leak happened: new technology, the working relationships and culture within the military and intelligence services, and the evolving nature of 21st century warfare.
It was just a few years ago that spies like Jonathan Pollard, the civilian intelligence analyst who spied for Israel, and Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent who spied for the Soviet Union and Russia, had to obtain paper copies of secret documents – sometimes thousands of pages that were then bundled up and turned over to foreign agents or secretly planted for pick up.
Whoever obtained and revealed the 90,000 classified documents made public by WikiLeaks had it much easier.
“He was basically able to put the Library of Alexandria on a thumb drive and walk out the door,” says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org. “That’s the part that I find distressing. I just don’t see how a well-designed system would allow that to happen.”
Mr. Pike notes that the music industry and Google Books seem to have better digital image control than the US military in this instance. Google notices if you’re downloading large numbers of PDF book files at a time, he says.
Military and intelligence culture
The 9/11 attacks brought about an accelerated effort to break down the compartmentalized walls between US intelligence agencies and among those with top secret (and above) clearances. The number of “sensitive compartmented information facilities” and the number of individuals cleared to enter those facilities increased rapidly.
Meanwhile, it became a lot easier to share and discuss information informally (and sometime privately) via the Internet.