OMB orders government wide review of information security in wake of WikiLeaks disclosures

OMB orders government wide review of information security in wake of WikiLeaks disclosures

As one of his first actions as the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jacob Lew ordered all federal agencies to conduct a full scale review of their information security procedures in order to prevent another crisis like the one caused this week by the disclosure of diplomatic cables by the website WikiLeaks.

"The recent irresponsible disclosure by WikiLeaks has resulted in significant damage to our national security," Lew wrote in a memo (PDF) Monday. "Any failure by agencies to safeguard classified information pursuant to relevant laws…is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

Specifically, Lew ordered every federal department and agency to create a "security assessment team" comprised of security and information technology experts to review procedures to prevent similar leaks in the future. The memo indicates that the federal government is planning to scale back access to classified materials and remove holes in the security of such materials, such as their ability to be downloaded and distributed.

"Such review should include (without limitation) evaluation of the agency’s configuration of classified government systems to ensure that users do not have broader access than is necessary to do their jobs effectively, as well as implementation of restrictions on usage of, and removable media capabilities from, classified government computer networks," the memo stated.

Meanwhile, the crisis precipitated by the WikiLeaks cable disclosure was still being handled Monday primarily by the State Department, which not only set up an around the clock working group to respond to the issue, but is also working within each bureau to communicate with governments and populations alike to try to mitigate the fallout.

Officials from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on down spent the day reaching out to foreign leaders in anticipation of further angst throughout the international diplomatic community as more documents are leaked in the coming days and weeks.

"We’re conscious of the fact that probably the stories that we’ve seen today are not the last ones to be reported on this subject, so we are going to continue this diplomatic outreach for as long as it takes," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday.

The State Department has already moved to restrict access to diplomatic cables, but doesn’t plan to significantly alter its diplomatic practices as a result of the disclosures, Crowley said.

"This is what diplomats do. We’ve very proud of what our diplomats do. We will learn from this experience," he said. "But we will not change how we do diplomacy around the world."

Crowley also rejected the call by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who could become the next chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, that the State Department classify WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization.

"We are treating this seriously. We see it as a crime. But the disclosure, unauthorized disclosure of information, in and of itself is not a terrorist act," he said.

Clinton lashed out at WikiLeaks in remarks to the press Monday morning, promising that the U.S. government would take "aggressive actions" to deal with those responsible for the disclosures.

"The United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information. It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems," she said. "This disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community – the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity."

Clinton refused to confirm that the diplomatic cables were in fact classified State Department products and made clear that she will not confirm or comment on any of the individual documents. She also attempted to downplay their impact on U.S. relations with other countries.

"I can tell you that in my conversations, at least one of my counterparts said to me, ‘Well, don’t worry about it. You should see what we say about you,’" Clinton said.

Also on Monday, WikiLeaks released the full record of its correspondence with the State Department, including WikiLeak founder Julian Assange’s Nov. 26 letter (PDF) to U.S. Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman, State Department legal advisor Harold Koh’s Nov. 26 response (PDF), and Assange’s Nov. 28 response (PDF) to State’s response.

In his Nov. 28 letter, Assange criticized the State Department for refusing to negotiate with WikiLeaks over what names and pieces of information should be withheld in order to prevent personal danger to innocent people. "You have chosen to respond in a manner which leads me to conclude that the supposed risks are entirely fanciful and you are instead concerned to suppress evidence of human rights abuse and other criminal behavior," Assange wrote.

Crowley responded to that assertion by saying that State simply didn’t believe Assange was making his offer of negotiation in good faith.

"Mr. Assange made an offer to the State Department after releasing information to other organizations, who, like Mr. Assange, did not have authorization to have this information. So if he was truly interested in the welfare of ordinary people and sources of information that are now at risk because of this release, he could have done this several months ago," Crowley said.