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Leak Police have gone crazy: Danger Room under fire for leaking imaginary weapon

Aug 07, 20125 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

It's official. Washington has gone a bit crazy to stop the flood of classified leaks, from suggestions of tossing reporters into jail, to targeting Wired's Danger Room for publishing a document about an imaginary weapon!

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Credit: Illus_man/Shutterstock

Washington has its panties in a serious twist about U.S. national security leaks, so much so that the New York Times said “Washington is currently going a little nuts on the subject of leaks.” In June, the feds began investigating who leaked classified Stuxnet cyberattack details to the NYT. Although the government is desperate to shut off leaks that could harm national security, there is a serious problem with what is considered to be classified and an actual danger to national security in the first place.

Last month a South Carolina congressman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, suggested the answer might be to toss reporters who write about classified information into jail if they won’t divulge the names of their sources, reported The Raw Story. “Why not send a subpoena to the reporter? Put them in front of a grand jury. You either answer a question or you’re going to be held in contempt and go to jail, which is what I thought all reporters aspire to anyway,” Gowdy said. “I thought that was the crown jewel in a reporter’s resume is to actually go to jail protecting a source. Give ’em what they want.”

All reporters want to go to jail? That seems a seriously misguided and jerky thing to say. What happened to the First Amendment, freedom of speech, freedom of the press? But the potential threat to stifle the press is just part of the problem. If whistleblowers don’t come forward to reveal government abuses or waste and reporters don’t write about, then how will the public learn about it? When campaigning before becoming president, Obama had said, “I know a little about whistle blowing and making sure those folks get protection.” The NYTimes added, “The Obama administration, which has, without really setting out to do so, already surpassed all previous administrations in its prosecution of leakers, has begun new investigations into disclosures by The Times, Newsweek, The Associated Press and others. Congress has mandated surveillance systems that make it easier to identify leakers and to prevent unauthorized downloads of classified material.”

As I mentioned yesterday, Secrecy News reported that congress has resisted efforts to reduce secrecy and has “outlawed bulk declassification.” The things classified are sometimes ridiculous. For example, The Washington Post wrote, “When the government’s espionage case against former National Security Agency official Thomas A. Drake collapsed last year, it meant that a key defense witness didn’t get to take the stand. The witness, J. William Leonard, the government’s former classification czar, planned to testify about the harm to democracy represented by the case – not from Drake leaking information about a troubled counterterrorism technology program at the NSA, but from what Leonard viewed as the government’s needless classification of information.”

Cryptome published the now declassified document called “What a Wonderful Success” [PDF] that includes General Keith Alexander, NSA Chief, praising a technology program known as Turbulence. There is nothing in this document that seems “classified” or worth potentially sending Drake to prison for 35 years. Drake and Binney, both NSA whistleblowers, have revealed that the NSA has a dossier on nearly every American and that you’re automatically suspicious until the NSA proves you aren’t. According to The Washington Post, Leonard said “the system for classifying information is ‘becoming dysfunctional’ and ‘clearly lacks the ability to differentiate between trivial information and that which can truly damage our nation’s well-being’.”

Now add to this hysteria another document that Cryptome entitled “Asinine Navy Request to Wired for Takedown.” Danger Room reported, “In its mounting campaign against leakers, the U.S. government isn’t just going after officials who revealed weighty secrets like the White House’s drone strike ‘kill list’ or its plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear sites. Federal agents are also chasing a leaker who gave Danger Room a document asking for a futuristic laser weapon that could set insurgents’ clothes on fire from nine miles away.”

What really takes the cake is that the energy weapon doesn’t even exist! Five years ago, Danger Room published this article with this image and this document [PDF] and now the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is demanding that Wired take down the document and “divulge the source who provided the imaginary weapon document.” Danger Room said no. To show a bit of solidarity to fellow reporters who expose surveillance and other abuses, here’s the images:

And how many times since 2007 has it been scraped and republished other places? Will all these sites also be threatened? Is that what America is becoming? How in the heck is a fake weapon even a threat to national security in the first place?!? By all means, please read about it on Danger Room.

I seem to recall other campaign promises before becoming president. As was pointed out in this Jon Stewart video, President Obama said, “We are going to lead by example, by maintaining the highest standards of civil liberties and human rights….No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient, that is not who we are….We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers and that justice is not arbitrary.” Yeah, well tell it to the leak police.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.