A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.
Some of the cables, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, were written as recently as late February, revealing the Obama administration’s exchanges over crises and conflicts. The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks posted 220 cables, some redacted to protect diplomatic sources, in the first installment of the archive on its Web site on Sunday.
By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it always shape final policy decisions. Nevertheless, these cables could compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders, and when the substance of private conversations is printed on the front pages of newspapers across the world, it can deeply impact not only US foreign policy interests, but those of our allies and friends around the world.
The U.S. Government has an internet which is completely separate from your internet. It is called the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, but I doubt more than a few of the thousands of people who use it every day know it by that name. It is better known as the SIPRNET (pronounced "SIP-er-net") and no one can access it unless they have a security clearance at least at the SECRET level. I know this because while I was in Iraq I had the appropriate clearance and the occasional need to access the SIPRNET. I would go to a secure room, log in using a separate ID and password, do whatever I needed to do, log off, and leave the room. I was told that the act of plugging a personal flash drive into a computer connected to the SIPRNET was a court-martial offense. The Military also runs the NIPRNET (NIP-er-net), the Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network which is available to anyone and hooks into the internet you're using now. There is no point - or there is supposed to be no point - where the SIPRNET and the NIPRNET intersect. SIPRNET e-mail addresses are different from the standard dot-mil e-mail address to which you can send a message. A SIPRNET e-mail address can only be reached by a person with his or her own SIPRNET e-mail address. I could not, for instance, send an e-mail to myself from my SIPRNET e-mail account to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thing is, I was often alone in the room with the SIPRNET terminals. I assume that someone like PFC Manning, whose job it was to troll the SIPRNET and provide analysis of intel he discovered there for the benefit of his commanders, was not closely supervised on an hour-by-hour basis. Text documents take up very little space. The average MULLINGS column (about 750 words) uses about 90 kilobytes. The flash drive on which I keep my MULLINGS docs has a capacity of 32 gigabytes - 32 billion bytes of data. That means I could keep more than 350,000 MULLINGS columns on that one drive. Using inexpensive compression software, I could probably double that to about 750,000 documents. Someone intent on stealing documents could easily plug in a flash drive, and download everything from the State Department's folders. A 1993 GAO report estimated there were more than 3 million people who had the appropriate clearance to access the SIPRNET. That was eight years before 9/11 so one could assume that number has at least doubled. All it takes is one person, bent on doing harm, to download and share hundreds of thousands of documents. It appears a Private First Class sitting in an office 40 miles north of Baghdad may have been that person.