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FCW : January 2013
Defusing the dangers of secrecy In the post-WikiLeaks era, informa- tion is a particularly hot commodity. WikiLeaks release of diplomatic cables and other sensitive informa- tion in 2010 was only the beginning, and it heralded a new era of infor- mation commoditization, a crack- down on those blowing the whistle and a battle for security. More than two years later, what has the govern- ment learned? On the surface, it is not neces- sarily clear that much has changed, even as the spirit of the now- crippled WikiLeaks lives on in examples of so-called hacktivism by the group Anonymous and others. A deeper look, however, uncov- ers aws in the federal system that WikiLeaks exposed and that can only be addressed through a whole new way of thinking. WikiLeaks lifted the veil of secre- cy that has long shrouded govern- ment activities and sparked a public awareness of federal con dentiality that continues today in the form of whistleblower crackdowns, the over-classi cation of information and a renewed governmentwide commitment to protecting secrets. In a new book, Forbes senior reporter Andy Greenberg gives us a peek inside the movement to free information from the con nes of the government lockdown. "The lesson of WikiLeaks is that shared secrets leak, and cracking down on those leaks is not going to work," Greenberg said. "Maybe you can scare some leakers, but many more will just be driven underground into less-controlled parts of the media --- WikiLeaks-like platforms --- instead of going to, for example, a reporter at the New York Times or Washington Post." "That s what happened with Brad- ley Manning," Greenberg said. "He chose an outlet of radical disclosure with no accountability, essentially." And Manning is not alone in his actions or the swift judicial respons- es that have followed. The Obama administration has indicted at least six people under the Espionage Act for mishandling information, despite laws that promise protection for whistleblowers. As Greenberg said, it is a slippery slope. "What s clear now is that the traditional means of whistleblow- ing --- going to the press or even to an internal whistleblowing outlet, as [National Security Agency whistle- blower] Tom Drake tried to do initially --- [are] not viable anymore. It s too risky," Greenberg said. "The lesson is that more and more leak- ers will attempt WikiLeaks-style leaks, trying to cryptographically protect their identity, attempting total anonymity. That creates a kind of leaking of information with impunity that might be even more dangerous than traditional means of whistleblowing in the pre- crackdown era." There are lessons for fed- eral agencies, Greenberg added, although implementing them could mean a departure from the current emphasis on perimeter defense and reactive responses to information breaches. "The parallel lesson is that infor- mation sharing is powerful but dangerous, and there needs to be a balance," he said. The key to that balance is letting some sun shine into an unnecessar- ily dark area. Lifting the veil on information Although it is not practical or safe to reveal the government s volumes of secrets en masse, it is a widely held view that too much informa- tion is classi ed and more transpar- ency would be bene cial. "So much of what WikiLeaks released actually made the U.S. look fantastic," Greenberg said. "It showed people around the world working earnestly and doing impor- The author of 'This Machine Kills Secrets' explains why agencies need to encourage whistleblowing to avoid another WikiLeaks-scale incident BY AMBER CORRIN Bookshelf January 2013 FCW.COM 31