(NationalSecurity.news) It appears as though former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is not alone in allegedly compromising U.S. national security by “spilling” secrets. According to a just-published report, the entire Department of Homeland Security is guilty, too.
As reported by Josh Rogan at Bloomberg News, DHS workers spilled classified information more than 100 times last year alone, and 40 percent came from one office – according to a leaked internal document Rogan obtained, ironically.
“Officials and lawmakers told me that until the department imposes stricter policies and sounder practices to better protect sensitive intelligence, the vulnerabilities there could be exploited,” he wrote. “Not only does this raise the threat that hostile actors could get their hands on classified information, but may lead to other U.S. agencies keeping DHS out of the loop on major security issues”
As a matter of policy, agencies were encouraged to share intelligence information following the 9/11 attacks. But in practice such sharing is still limited, and for this exact reason – passing around sensitive information to too many agencies really increases the risk of it being intentionally leaked or mishandled (and leaked).
Still, it’s noteworthy to mention that spills are not the same as leaking classified data, which is intentional. Rogan wrote that a DHS official, whom he did not name, said spills often include the accidental, inadvertent, or intentional introduction of classified information into an unclassified information technology system, or higher-level classified information into a lower-level classified information technology system, to include non-government systems.”
Some examples would be using a copier that is not approved for higher levels of classified data; failing to properly mark a product that is classified; transmitting classified information on an unclassified system like Gmail; and sending classified data to someone who does not have the proper clearances to view or obtain it. [Editor’s note: Clinton may be guilty of all of these.]
Rogan noted further:
There were 119 of these classified spills reported throughout the Homeland Security Department in fiscal year 2015, according to the internal document, which itself is unclassified. The section with the most spills by far was the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, headquartered at building 19 of the Nebraska Avenue Complex in Washington, led by retired General Francis Taylor. This office is composed mostly of intelligence analysts assigned to produce and review classified reports that are often the work of other intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
A senior DHS official said that the data enforcement standards at the department’s intelligence and analysis office is lax, and that longstanding policies and practices to protect classified data are not routinely followed. The official added that the number of classified spills contained in the internal report only consists of incidents that were actually reported, meaning that the real number of spills is probably much higher, Rogan said.
He added that government secrecy experts say that the number of spills doesn’t prove, necessarily, that there is a larger cultural problem at DHS. But, they added, there is a history of careless handling of classified data via email at the department, as Bloomberg News has reported in the past [here]. Also, they said DHS has been guilty in the past of bad practices concerning classified data within the intelligence and analysis division, and that officials should look deeper into that problem.
“At a minimum, this raises a question about what’s going on at this corner of the agency,” Steven Aftergood, director of the program on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told Rogan. “If it is happening disproportionally in one part of the agency, that may mean that remedial measures are needed there, including security training, better oversight and similar steps.”
Aftergood noted that spillages occur because of human error all the time, and that some of it is to be expected – and even anticipated. But business practices are designed to minimize such unauthorized exposures, if they are followed.
“Classified spills are a government-wide problem and there’s no way to know if the incidents at the DHS intelligence shop have been exploited,” writes Rogan. “But unless that office and the government as a whole does a better job of protecting classified information, it’s just a matter of time before real damage is done to U.S. national security.”
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