from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2017, Issue No. 15
February 28, 2017
Secrecy News Blog: https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/
37 LEAK CASES WERE REPORTED TO DOJ IN 2016
Executive branch agencies submitted 37 "crimes reports" to the Department of Justice last year regarding leaks of classified information.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, wrote Patricia Matthews of the DOJ National Security Division, "We have conducted a search of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. A records search of that Section indicates that 37 crime reports concerning unauthorized disclosures of classified information were received by DOJ in CY 2016." (The specific nature of the leaks and the government's responses to them were not disclosed.)
The 2016 figure is double the number of suspected criminal leak cases reported in 2015. But it is consistent with the average number of leak cases from 2009 to 2015, which is 39.7.
What makes the latest number of reported leaks interesting is not that it deviates sharply from past experience but that it does not.
Evidently there is a baseline of leakiness that persists even in the face of strenuous official efforts to combat leaks.
President Obama issued executive order 13587 in 2011 to improve safeguarding of classified information. He issued a National Insider Threat Policy in 2012, which was intended in part to deter unauthorized disclosures of classified information. The Obama Administration famously prosecuted more suspected leakers than ever before. But after all of that, the annual number of suspected criminal leaks is stable and undiminished.
Among other things, this has implications for security policy. Since leaks continue despite government actions to suppress them, prudent security officers will limit their vulnerability by using classification more selectively, by further reducing the security-cleared population, and by aiming for resilience to unwanted disclosure rather than for perfect secrecy.
"There's been major crimes committed," House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) told reporters yesterday, referring to the latest leaks in the Trump Administration. "What I'm concerned about is no one is focusing on major leaks that have occurred here... We can't run a government like this. A government can't function with massive leaks at the highest level."
But the record of the past decade indicates that the government has no alternative but to operate in a leaky environment.
A stronger argument could even be made that some irreducible level of leakiness serves a salutary purpose as a check against misconduct. A perfectly reliable and altogether leak-proof secrecy system would present an irresistibly dangerous temptation to irresponsible political leaders.
ARMY INTELLIGENCE: A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
Collection of more intelligence-related information does not necessarily translate into better intelligence.
"Because of limitations associated with human cognition, and because much of the information obtained in war is contradictory or false, more information will not equate to better understanding."
What makes that sensible observation doubly interesting is that it was written by Lt.Gen. H.R. McMaster, the newly designated National Security Advisor to President Trump.
It appears in the Foreword to the updated U.S. Army Functional Concept for Intelligence, 2020-2040, TRADOC Pamphlet, 525-2-1, February 2017.
The Army document, a somewhat speculative and aspirational look into the future of Army intelligence, presents a stark view of future threats, projected intelligence gaps, and directions forward. Some excerpts:
"International conditions will change more rapidly based on the increased velocity and momentum of human interactions and events. Technologies will become universally available and create a potential to overmatch U.S. capabilities. Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation among state and nonstate actors will pose an increased threat to U.S. security interests. Advanced cyberspace and counter-space capabilities will spread to state and nonstate actors, allowing them to protect their access and disrupt or deny access to others. Operations will occur among populations in cities and complex terrain."
"Geospatial databases support the understanding of existing infrastructure and potential entry points but do not fully address the complexities of large urban centers, such as megacities. Country studies establish an overview, but city studies and transnational studies are lacking. While infrastructure and order of battle information remain valid, understanding networked and transnational enemy organizations, social media, and biometric identity information have equal or greater importance in some missions. Commanders must also understand critical infrastructure, assets, and terrain in the cyberspace domain. Nonstate ideological movements or political competition may drive national and subnational change more rapidly than conventional analysis may indicate. Proliferation of technology and WMD between states and nonstate actors disrupts normalcy faster than country studies can update."
"Current information collection techniques are not robust enough to understand the rapidly changing urban environment. The speed of human interaction is greatest in a large urban environment. Operations in urban environments are not traditional adversary centric problems -- the environment itself offers significant challenges to a conventional force and provides ample concealment to the enemy. Social networking, flows, infrastructure layering, radical variations by neighborhood, multiple authority structures, and others, complicate information collection against populations, infrastructure, and physical environment signatures. Government, religious, economic, and ideological actors use social and traditional public media to influence the population. Understanding the environment requires collecting and exploiting relevant signatures, many of which are either as of yet undiscovered, or lack sufficient technical exploitation to be useful."
"Population and structural and signal density in urban environments produce physical and virtual clutter that reduces the effectiveness of intelligence collection, and complicates target acquisition. Market saturation of cell phones and other web-enabled devices produce a signal dense environment which complicates target acquisition and SIGINT collection.... Increasing proliferation of personal mobile communications is making connectedness more robust at the personal level adding to the difficulty of identifying relationships. The density of information and communications technologies may slow our ability to identify actionable intelligence."
Meanwhile, the document says, the Army should anticipate "budget and force reductions."
"Fiscal constraints demand near-term solutions that preserve the balance of readiness, force structure, and modernization necessary to meet the demands of the national defense strategy now, while setting the stage to begin evolving the force in the mid-term (2020-2030) and bringing innovative solutions to fruition to meet the challenges of the far-term (2030-2040)."
Domestically, "Legal constraints govern intelligence support to operations conducted within the homeland, specifically Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) and homeland defense. The U.S. is a litigious environment within which the Army operates; intelligence leaders must understand the role legal limitations and authorities play in shaping intelligence support."
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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