Wikileaks is Attacking US National Security

Wikileaks is Attacking US National Security

By Jed Babbin - December 2, 2010

Tom Friedman's column in yesterday's New York Times was a fictional rendition of a Chinese Washington embassy cable leaked and published by WikiLeaks, the cybervent for too many of America's secrets. Freidman's fictional cable to Beijing snickered at all those Americans who are too dumb to realize how distraught they should be, having suffered through another corrupt election, still quagmired in Afghanistan, living without high-speed trains or the wisdom to transform their economy from oil to wind and solar power.

Friedman's work was just another clichéd "visitor from Mars"-eye view of Americans' supposed stupidity. Nevertheless, perhaps unintentionally, Friedman raised an important question: what would China, or for that matter Russia, do if its secrets were stolen and published by Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks group?

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning - the alleged leaker of WikiLeaks' Iraq war logs and possibly the State Department cables as well - had access to an enormous amount of data on the "SIPR" network, the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network on which several US government agencies work on, store and exchange a huge amount of classified information. According to press reports and confirmed by one source, Manning was allowed to take music CDs - possibly Lady Gaga CDs - into a supposedly-secure room where he allegedly copied hundreds of thousands of documents from SIPR net onto the CDs which he carried out and later passed to WikiLeaks.

China's control of their secret information is much more secure and dispersed so that a Chinese Bradley Manning wouldn't likely be able to get more than a small fraction of the documents he is accused of copying. And China wouldn't be too gentle with even a small-time Manning equivalent. If he were discovered he'd be hauled outside, shot twice in the back of the head, and his family would be sent a bill for the ammunition used in the execution. A Russian version of Manning would have the same problems accessing information, and could expect the same treatment.

So could the WikiLeaks principals. Assange may know how Russia treated its most important leaker of this young century. Former KGB Lt. Col. Alexander Litvinenko had escaped Russia and was living in London, writing a book about how the KGB had fomented war in Chechnya and terrorized Russians. Litvinenko was assassinated in 2006 with a lethal dose of Polonium-210. If Assange were to publish Russian secrets, the KGB's successor organization - the SVR -- would probably take a few simple steps to prevent repetition. It would kill him, his wife and kids, his parents, and his dog.

But how the leakers - or Assange himself - would be treated is much less important than how Russia and China would act against the WikiLeaks network.

WikiLeaks, as it boasts, operates through a highly-secure and covert network of computer servers dispersed in several nations. Its sophistication is so great that, according to one news report, when its servers were subjected to a "denial of use" attack shortly after the release of the State Department cables (i.e., it was flooded with so much incoming traffic its computers failed) it managed to route its traffic through unrelated commercial servers and was "down" only briefly.

Taking WikiLeaks out is, as the mathematicians would say, a non-trivial exercise. Both Russia and China could probably do it.

Russia - having already mounted successful cyber attacks against some of its former satellites (Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008) - wouldn't hesitate to attack the WikiLeaks network of computers and may have the ability to put WikiLeaks out of business at least temporarily.

China's response would likely be less personal but more effective. China's investment in cyber warfare is probably greater than any other nation's. Its active cyber espionage and sabotage programs attempt, according to several sources, hundreds or even thousands of attacks against US government and industrial computer networks every day. In June 2007, the Chinese apparently hacked into the Pentagon e-mail system and, for a time, rerouted all its traffic through a foreign network.

If China wanted to destroy the WikiLeaks organization by a cyberwar attack, it would undoubtedly have the capability. And, like Russia, it wouldn't hesitate to act.

But it isn't Russia or China whose national security has been violated by WikiLeaks, it's us. Why hasn't the Obama administration mounted an effective cyber attack on WikiLeaks and destroyed its ability - for at least as long as it would take to recreate its highly sophisticated network - to publish our secrets?

Instead of defending ourselves, the White House is cavalier about the effect of WikiLeaks releases on our diplomacy. Yesterday, presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "Our foreign policy is stronger than that; we're a stronger country than that. We're not scared of one guy with one keyboard and a laptop."

If there is a single element of truth in Gibbs' statement, it's undetectable. Aside from the facts that our secrets are too vulnerable and our foreign policy incoherent, no one is scared of WikiLeaks. We're justly angry at what is, in effect, a cyber attack on our national security. And, to say the least, it's not one guy with a laptop.

It is necessary, and within our capabiity, to attack and do enough damage to WikiLeaks' computer network that we could delay - for weeks, months or years - Assange's ability to publish more of our secrets.

U.S. Cyber Command has enormous defensive capabilities and employs - directly or indirectly - many of the best computer scientists in the world. It, and several intelligence agencies have the ability to turn their defensive skills to offense and take down WikiLeaks. It's not that we can't mount an attack: it's that the president lacks the will to even try.

It's entirely possible that the Obama administration lacked a plan to take WikiLeaks down when its first publication of US secrets occurred more than four months ago. But now we're up to three WikiLeaks releases over nearly half a year, and Assange promises more to come.

However you characterize it - a crime or a terrorist act - WikiLeaks is attacking US national security. We are not only entitled to defend ourselves, we are duty-bound to do so. If only the White House would realize that.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense under George H.W. Bush.

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