DoD and Wikileaks: The Emperor has no clothes

Conventional wisdom would dictate that I avoid commenting on the DoD decision to ask its employees (of which I am one) not to visit the Wikileaks website. But I'll ignore conventional wisdom and run the risk of getting in to trouble from my superiors.

Why? Because the order to not visit the Wikileaks site is both unenforceable if employees seek to do so on their personal computers from home, and, more importantly, because the decision reveals that the DoD truly is the emperor with no clothes. The Taliban, and others, can read these documents to their hearts content, while those of us who work for Uncle Sam cannot. Seriously? Yes, seriously. The official line is that these documents have yet to be 'declassified' by the proper authorities, even though Mullah Omar, my Mum, and Tarquin the anti-war protester are all avidly reading them.

What was truly revealing about the classified documents leaked by Wikileaks to The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel were not their actual contents of accidental Afghan civilian deaths resulting from the actions of coalition forces, or that the Taliban have been dabbling with heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles, or even that the Pakistani ISI have been speaking out of both sides of their mouth. Oh the shock and horror! None of these are new to anyone who has been assiduously following the news about AfPak. No, what the 15,000 or so classified documents obtained and leaked by Wikileaks truly reveal is that the U.S. Government, and the Department of Defense especially, would classify the time of day if they thought they could get away with it.

The automatic tendency to not just classify information that is already in the public domain, but to then actually over-classify it is the real scandal here. By (over)classifying information that is already in the public domain we end up, paradoxically, not protecting the information that needs to be classified. How so? Well, if what you read in the news routinely ends up being classified why should you take the classification itself seriously? If what is widely known is labeled 'Secret' then that is not much of a secret.

I have no time for the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and the U.S. Army PFC, Bradley Manning, who originally leaked the documents to Assange. Their political worldviews strikes me as naive at best, disingenuous at worst. But it should be noted that while the documents obtained by Wikileaks remain classified until further notice, the nature of the information itself has been well-known long before most of us heard of Wikileaks. We know that there have been accidental deaths of Afghan civilians that are a direct result of the actions of coalition forces. We know that the Taliban have used man-portable heat-seeking anti-aircraft missile launchers to down coalition aircraft. And we know that elements of the Pakistani government are in cahoots with the Taliban.

Given that protecting classified information actually costs the taxpayer billions of dollars each year in terms of the security vetting of civilian and military personnel and the security of the actual information and the facilities they are stored in, it is scandalous that a large proportion of classified information probably need no be classified at all, or should be reclassified at a lower classification. How many billions of dollars are being wasted as a result?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is looking to cut billions from a supposedly bloated defense budget – if he's serious then the truly bloated classification system might be a good place to start – and we might actually end up protecting real secrets.

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