The Cable

Clinton defends Bush administration on WikiLeaks, vows to prosecute leakers

MANAMA, Bahrain—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asked Friday what foreigners should think about the extraordinary breach of cybersecurity that led to the WikiLeaks crisis, pointed to the George W. Bush administration’s decision following the 9/11 attacks to vastly expand the sharing of secret information. Asked how such a huge leak could have occurred and ...

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MANAMA, Bahrain—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asked Friday what foreigners should think about the extraordinary breach of cybersecurity that led to the WikiLeaks crisis, pointed to the George W. Bush administration’s decision following the 9/11 attacks to vastly expand the sharing of secret information.

Asked how such a huge leak could have occurred and why no alarm bells went off when a low-level intelligence analyst allegedly downloaded 250,000 classified diplomatic cables, Clinton replied: "The decision was made in the Bush administration to add the diplomatic cables to the Defense Department’s special network that was created for that purpose."

While she defended the move as defensible at the time, she emphasized that these policies were being rolled back in the wake of the WikiLeaks crisis, perhaps for good.

"The process was undertaken in order to do a better job of what’s called ‘connecting the dots,’ because after 9/11, one of the principle criticisms of the government was that the information was stovepiped, that the Defense Department knew things that the State Department didn’t know, that the White House didn’t know," Clinton explained. "So it was understandable for the Bush administration to say, ‘We need to end the stovepiping and figure out how to have greater situational awareness and sharing of information.’"

Without identifying anyone by name, she then said that it was in the Defense Department, not the State Department, where the leak occurred.

"The individual… was a fully cleared military intelligence officer… [The Pentagon is] conducting a very vigorous investigation to determine why no alarm bells went off," Clinton said. (Media speculation has swirled around Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst with the 10th Mountain division in Iraq who has been charged with transferring classified information to an unauthorized source.)

Clinton then explained that the State Department had severed its classified files from the Secret Internet Protocol Routing Network (SIPRNet), a network that was set up to share information between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. She revealed for the first time that this action had been taken well before the WikiLeaks cables starting floating out into the open.

"I directed we would cease sharing, for whatever time it may take, our cables. That stopped as soon as this gentleman was apprehended," she said. Manning was arrested in May.

Clinton also pledged that the United States would prosecute anyone connected to the disclosures. She said that any guilty parties would certainly be prosecuted, and that the prosecutions would go further, reaching those involved in distributing the cables such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

"[Manning] is clearly going to be prosecuted along with anyone who participated or contributed to the crimes that he committed," Clinton said.

She continued the administration’s two-pronged public relations strategy of playing up the danger of the leaks, while downplaying the information in the cables themselves. On the one hand, she warned the assembled leaders of dozens of countries at the conference that the problem was serious and was as dangerous to them as to the United States.

"The attack on the United States’ information system was really an attack on the international community," she said. "I believe that this attack, if left unpunished, will be just the first of many against anyone, anywhere."

She then told the assembled leaders that the cables contained nothing really shocking.

"Some of the analysis that has been done with the information that has been made available through these leaks has basically concluded there’s not much news… There’s no big revelation; it’s the day-to-day work of what diplomats all around the world do."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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