Could WikiLeaks story put a damper on battlefield intell?

Maybe we need to rethink what secret and secure really means in this age of rapid communication.

Most of the reaction to the dumping of classified Afghan war documents at the WikiLeaks whistleblower Web site has so far focused on the broader damage the release might cause to the U.S. in that fight. But might the affair also impact the future ability of frontline troops to do their job?

A story published in MIT’s Technology Review implies that it could. The story said the WikiLeaks data dump was made possible by recent efforts in the military to deliver the freshest possible intelligence to frontline fighters. A probable restriction on the distribution of that material in the future could throttle the flow of potentially lifesaving information to those soldiers.

Technology Review links this to a clampdown on information flowing across DOD’s Secret IP Router Network (SIPRNet), which carries secret information and was presumably where Bradley Manning, the Army private and intelligence analyst who has been charged with an earlier release of documents to WikiLeaks and could be implicated in the latest Afghan affair, got much of that data.

The problem for the military is not only that up-to-date intelligence is becoming more vital for warfighters, particularly in the urban environments they are now fighting in, but it’s central to the way the military intends to use technology to fight wars in the future. Army Chief Information Officer Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson says the Army is “net-dependent” in carrying out its mission, and Air Force CIO Lt. Gen. William Lord says the network is crucial to making up for the reduced size of future armed forces.

The recent WikiLeaks debacle poses a big problem for DOD. The point of the network is to get good information to the warfighter as quickly as possible, while keeping the data as secure as possible. You could keep it secure by strictly limiting access to data, but what does that do to its availability?

Another Technology Review piece suggests that the bird has already flown when it comes to putting a lid on leaks. Maybe the focus should be more on tracking down leakers and prosecuting them, leaving the data to flow to where it will do the most good. Maybe we also need a rethink what secret and secure really means these days.

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