Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Real Intelligence Scandal

Something is rotten in the US security services - the CIA caused millions of dollars to be spent investigating the "outing" of an insignificant Langley desk jockey while Chinese nationals were stealing priceless US military information using unclassified documents. The nation and its allies need reassurance that this broken system is being fixed.

The original story is here, and the latest is here (my emphasis):

...documents obtained from Mr. Mak's home in Downey, Calif., show that China obtained valuable intelligence that will allow Beijing's military to attack U.S. warships electronically, the officials said.

One document that investigators think was passed to the Chinese military was a listing of the electronic vulnerabilities of a U.S. warship. Knowing the vulnerabilities will help China's military, which is in the midst of a major buildup, to conduct electronic attacks on U.S. ships and knock out Global Positioning System guidance systems, the officials said.

The document was among thousands of pages of sensitive but unclassified documents found at Mr. Mak's residence. A preliminary review of the compromises indicates that the Chinese have learned extremely valuable details about U.S. weapons systems, from submarines to aircraft carriers, that could give China's military a strategic advantage in a conflict, the officials said.

The documents reviewed in the case so far show that they were restricted from export and considered sensitive but unclassified military information. Mr. Mak obtained the information while he was employed at defense contractor Power Paragon, which was involved in more than 200 Navy contracts.

Information that enables the enemy to sink US ships is unclassified? That's ridiculous!

Here are the rules that I had to follow as a Brit defense contractor during the Cold War:

1. The military decided how each document was classified - they knew it's value to the enemy. Any information that the enemy could use to our military disadvantage was classified at least as "Secret".

2. Civilians could access classified documents only after they'd been positively vetted, signed the Official Secrets Act, and demonstrated a "need to know". Years later, I'm still bound by the OSA.

3. There were strict rules for the handling of classified material - leaving your secure filing cabinet unlocked was a serious offense. And of course you never got to take classified material out of the facility.

4. The rules were enforced by security officers, mostly ex-military and decidedly old fashioned in their attitude to miscreants.

It looks like none of the above was in place in this case, and that merits a major inquiry by the Pentagon followed by public reassurance that the problem is fixed.