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Politico: Patching Pentagon leaks may not be so easy

By April 16, 2023June 7th, 2023Mailchimp, News, Print

As published by Matt Berg by

If one thing is clear after an explosive week of leaks, it’s that Pentagon officials will be taking a hard look at how they can stop this from happening again.

Mitigation measures are already in full swing: Some U.S. officials who once received daily briefing materials have stopped receiving those, CNN reported, and the Pentagon is continuing to trim down its distribution lists. Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. PAT RYDER has said the DoD is looking at ways to prevent another leak. President JOE BIDEN said Friday that he has ordered the military and intelligence community to “take steps to further secure and limit distribution of sensitive information.”

Whittling down the number of people who have access to such materials is a good start, MICK MULROY, a former Pentagon official and retired CIA officer, told NatSec Daily. But there’s much more that can be done.

“We can do a lot better at stopping things like this from happening. It will take some money and it will take some effort,” Mulroy said.

Mulroy offered three actions the DoD could consider: decreasing the number of people with access to top secret materials, making a concerted effort to find out whether members have contact with foreign nationals and limiting the physical printing of documents.

That last point is because Russians may have been in the Discord chat where JACK TEIXEIRA, a 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guard member, allegedly leaked the documents, as one of his friends told The Washington Post. The nationalities of the group’s members have not been confirmed.

“If Jack was going down to his local pub in Massachusetts and hanging out with a group of people, two of which were Russians, that would be a major flag,” Mulroy said. “But now we have this new world, where people have strong relationships that literally happen only online and remotely. I don’t know how much that is taken into account.”

Most people probably wouldn’t have expected Teixeira to have access to top secret documents about Ukraine’s imminent counteroffensive, or Egypt planning to supply Russia with rockets, or South Korean officials’ alleged qualms about supplying weapons to Kyiv. But Pentagon officials weren’t surprised, our own LARA SELIGMAN reported Thursday evening.

It’s unclear whether it’d be possible to limit the access that people who maintain military networks have to classified information.

“It’s not like your regular IT guy where you call a help desk and they come fix your computer,” a defense official told CNN’s HALEY BRITZKY. Teixeira was part of the 102nd Intelligence Wing, which the official said is responsible for gathering highly classified intelligence and packaging that for combatant commanders, who are among the most senior military officers. “They’re working on a very highly classified system, so they require that clearance.”

But JULIETTE KAYYEM, a former official who once oversaw the base where Teixeira worked, is baffled by the case: “I am at a loss to explain why a 21-year-old member of the state intelligence wing, who does not appear to have been working in any federal capacity, would need access to the kind of materials.”

On the question of who can print what, there appear to be changes that could be made.

Teixiera or anyone with a basic top secret clearance would have had access to DoD’s internet for top secret information, a member of the intel community told NatSec Daily (we granted the person anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press). While that closed system doesn’t allow users to send out information, they can print from it — an action that would have been logged internally but would not have triggered an alert.

Access to that internet, called the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, amounts to “the keys to the United States’ intelligence Kingdom,” JONATHAN REIBER, a former cyber official in the Obama administration, told our own MAGGIE MILLER.