The impact of classified disclosure

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The impact of classified disclosure

donthinkYou know he’s right…

Con­fi­den­tial. Secret. Top Secret. We hear these terms thrown around con­cern­ing Hillary Clinton’s emails. But what do they really mean? If you don’t han­dle clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion (and most of you don’t), it’s hard to under­stand the impact of los­ing clas­si­fied mate­ri­als. Worse, most secu­rity peo­ple aren’t going to com­ment on it, and aren’t even allowed to visit sites like Wik­ileaks.

To attempt to demon­strate the dam­age dis­clo­sure can have, let’s use a foot­ball anal­ogy. Imag­ine you’re a col­lege foot­ball coach and play against other rival teams in your con­fer­ence. You are try­ing to keep your plays and recruit­ing strat­egy hid­den from the other teams, who are try­ing to fig­ure these out in order to beat you. By the way, you’re doing your own spy­ing on them as well.

fantasyfootball

Con­fi­den­tial infor­ma­tion is clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion that if revealed would cause dam­age. In our anal­ogy, imag­ine if a rival coach got ahold of your weekly sched­ule while you were recruit­ing. He could see where you were trav­el­ing and who you were meet­ing, which he could use to craft a bet­ter deal to try and steal those peo­ple away from you. But if he only had a one-​week sched­ule, it might dam­age your recu­rit­ing, but only for a lim­ited time.

weeklycalendar
Recruit­ing in the south huh.…not a chance!

Secret infor­ma­tion would cause seri­ous dam­age if revealed. If one of your play­ers used a hid­den video cam­era to tape a rival teams prac­tice and key plays, that would give you a mas­sive advan­tage over them. Not only that, but it would take some time for the team to build new plays, prac­tice them and roll them out, which allows your team to pum­mel them dur­ing the season.

footballpracticeTriple option? Nobody uses that!

Top Secret infor­ma­tion causes grave dam­age if revealed, and is often used to pro­tect “sources and means.” In our exam­ple, imag­ine if we had hid­den a wire­less video cam­era that was cap­tur­ing our rival teams every prac­tice. If the rival team dis­cov­ers that we have a video of one prac­tice, they might not know about the hid­den cam­era, just that some­one at some point took a video. They might spend time build­ing higher fences or try­ing to con­duct prac­tice at night, even though none of those actions block our hid­den cam­era, because they only had access to our Secret information.

hiddencamera
Yup, keep build­ing those walls higher…

But, if they dis­cov­ered the exis­tence of the hid­den video cam­era, that would be really bad. First, it prob­a­bly took us a lot of time and money to hide the cam­era, which is now wasted. Worse, what if our rival team is really cagey? They could run a fake prac­tice where their team uses line­ups that they know will make it into our hands, only to use dif­fer­ent ones dur­ing an actual game. Their knowl­edge of the source of the infor­ma­tion makes it Top Secret and gravely dam­ages our abil­ity to win a foot­ball game.

There is one more type of clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion called a Spe­cial Access Pro­gram. SAP is so sen­si­tive that there is a sep­a­rate access list for who can access the infor­ma­tion. In fact, SAP may be so pro­tected that unless the pro­gram man­ager tells you about it, you won’t even know it exists, and not even know its cover name.

specialaccessNext thing you’ll tell me is that it costs mil­lions of dollars…

A foot­ball SAP would be if you as coach had a rival player that you were pay­ing off to pass infor­ma­tion about that rival team. You wouldn’t risk telling your play­ers about it. If your rival coach fig­ured it out, the player could be banned and you could face expul­sion from the con­fer­ence and get fired. Dis­clo­sure would be cat­a­strophic and cost you dearly.

So while the loss of any clas­si­fied hurts, there is a scale for it. Con­fi­den­tial hurts in the short term, Secret a lot more, and Top Secret and SAP will almost def­i­nitely get peo­ple killed and cost mil­lions of tax­payer dol­lars to fix. So when Snow­den sells our Top Secret infor­ma­tion to the Rus­sians, he is not just a trai­tor, but he is cost­ing you and every other tax­payer mil­lions of dol­lars for the intel­li­gence com­mu­nity to try and rebuild new access.

When the breach con­sists of mul­ti­ple thou­sands of emails, con­tain­ing infor­ma­tion rang­ing all the way up to SAP and was caused by gross neg­li­gence, yes, you should be angry.


This post solely rep­re­sents the view of the author and does not rep­re­sent the offi­cial views of the Depart­ment of Defense, Depart­ment of the Navy, or any other branch of the US gov­ern­ment. It also doesn’t con­tain any clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion, unlike some people’s emails float­ing around on the Internet.


If you liked this, you might like read­ing my thoughts on Darth Vader, and maybe even buy my Kids Book on the Navy.

donthinkYou know he’s right…

Confidential. Secret. Top Secret. We hear these terms thrown around concerning Hillary Clinton’s emails. But what do they really mean? If you don’t handle classified information (and most of you don’t), it’s hard to understand the impact of losing classified materials. Worse, most security people aren’t going to comment on it, and aren’t even allowed to visit sites like Wikileaks.

To attempt to demonstrate the damage disclosure can have, let’s use a football analogy. Imagine you’re a college football coach and play against other rival teams in your conference. You are trying to keep your plays and recruiting strategy hidden from the other teams, who are trying to figure these out in order to beat you. By the way, you’re doing your own spying on them as well.

fantasyfootball

Confidential information is classified information that if revealed would cause damage. In our analogy, imagine if a rival coach got ahold of your weekly schedule while you were recruiting. He could see where you were traveling and who you were meeting, which he could use to craft a better deal to try and steal those people away from you. But if he only had a one-week schedule, it might damage your recuriting, but only for a limited time.

weeklycalendar
Recruiting in the south huh….not a chance!

Secret information would cause serious damage if revealed. If one of your players used a hidden video camera to tape a rival teams practice and key plays, that would give you a massive advantage over them. Not only that, but it would take some time for the team to build new plays, practice them and roll them out, which allows your team to pummel them during the season.

footballpracticeTriple option? Nobody uses that!

Top Secret information causes grave damage if revealed, and is often used to protect “sources and means.” In our example, imagine if we had hidden a wireless video camera that was capturing our rival teams every practice. If the rival team discovers that we have a video of one practice, they might not know about the hidden camera, just that someone at some point took a video. They might spend time building higher fences or trying to conduct practice at night, even though none of those actions block our hidden camera, because they only had access to our Secret information.

hiddencamera
Yup, keep building those walls higher…

But, if they discovered the existence of the hidden video camera, that would be really bad. First, it probably took us a lot of time and money to hide the camera, which is now wasted. Worse, what if our rival team is really cagey? They could run a fake practice where their team uses lineups that they know will make it into our hands, only to use different ones during an actual game. Their knowledge of the source of the information makes it Top Secret and gravely damages our ability to win a football game.

There is one more type of classified information called a Special Access Program. SAP is so sensitive that there is a separate access list for who can access the information. In fact, SAP may be so protected that unless the program manager tells you about it, you won’t even know it exists, and not even know its cover name.

specialaccessNext thing you’ll tell me is that it costs millions of dollars…

A football SAP would be if you as coach had a rival player that you were paying off to pass information about that rival team. You wouldn’t risk telling your players about it. If your rival coach figured it out, the player could be banned and you could face expulsion from the conference and get fired. Disclosure would be catastrophic and cost you dearly.

So while the loss of any classified hurts, there is a scale for it. Confidential hurts in the short term, Secret a lot more, and Top Secret and SAP will almost definitely get people killed and cost millions of taxpayer dollars to fix. So when Snowden sells our Top Secret information to the Russians, he is not just a traitor, but he is costing you and every other taxpayer millions of dollars for the intelligence community to try and rebuild new access.

When the breach consists of multiple thousands of emails, containing information ranging all the way up to SAP and was caused by gross negligence, yes, you should be angry.


This post solely represents the view of the author and does not represent the official views of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other branch of the US government. It also doesn’t contain any classified information, unlike some people’s emails floating around on the Internet.


If you liked this, you might like reading my thoughts on Darth Vader, and maybe even buy my Kids Book on the Navy.