Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Existential Threat of Investigative Journalism Against National Security and Secrecy

With the developments regarding Julian Assange and Wikileaks, I thought that a look back to a WikiLeaks release in 2009 was timely.  In the October 2009 release, WikiLeaks posted a previously unpublished and classified (RESTRICTED) 2389 page document from the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense dated October 2001 called the Defense Manual of Security Volumes 1, 2 and 3 Issue 2, a document that provides instructions on how the United Kingdom government should deal with leaks of data and groups of people or individuals that would seek to expose government secrets.  Note that the contents of the document are covered under the Official Secrets Act 1911-89.

Here is the title page of the document:

In Defense Manual of Security, we find the following five threats to security and their definitions:

"1.) Espionage

Espionage is defined as "Attempts to acquire information covertly or illegally in order to assist a foreign power". Foreign intelligence services are continuously collecting information for intelligence purposes. They: a. Work mainly through agents who are either introduced into a country or recruited locally. Such agents in their search for targets may be expected to seek out those with human weaknesses who can be exploited particularly through corruption or blackmail. b. Mount technical operations such as eavesdropping, including telephone interception, interception of radio communications (SIGINT) and surveillance. No establishment is immune from attack. No one with access or potential access to protected assets is too unimportant to be cultivated either as a useful contact or possible agent. Definitions of levels of espionage threat, including from SIGINT and extremists, are at Annex C.

2.) Sabotage

Sabotage is defined as "An act falling short of a military operation, or an omission, intended to cause physical damage in order to assist a hostile foreign power or to further a subversive political aim". The following should be noted: a. Although sabotage on a major scale is likely only in the period immediately before or after the outbreak of war, it can be used as a means of advancing political causes. b. In peacetime agents of foreign intelligence services may select targets for future attack by trained, experienced saboteurs. c. Saboteurs may be capable of using highly sophisticated methods and their aim will be to disrupt essential communications, damage vital military installations, impede industrial production and lower national morale. d. In acts of terrorism, sabotage may be used for widely differing purposes ranging from attacking unimportant targets with the object of attracting publicity to the terrorists' cause, to damaging important installations as part of a major terrorist campaign.

3.) Subversion

Subversion is defined as "Action designed to weaken the military, economic or political strength of a nation by undermining the morale, loyalty or reliability of its citizens". The threat from subversion stems not only from foreign intelligence services but also from members of organizations such as those based on anarchism, religious fanaticism, and extreme left and right wing ideologies. Organizations with these ideologies may try to acquire protectively marked information, not necessarily to give to a potential enemy, but to use it in a way that would bring the government in general into disrepute.

4.) Terrorism

Terrorism is defined as "The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against individuals or property in an attempt to coerce or intimidate governments or societies to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives". It represents a world-wide threat and is characterized by sudden and violent attacks. Terrorist methods include murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, hijacking of air, sea, road and rail transport, and attacks on people, buildings, aircraft and vehicles by small arms, mortars, bombs and mines.

5.) Non-Traditional Threats Posed by Other Individuals or Organizations

 Government assets are under threat from a variety of sources beyond those traditionally regarded as hostile or otherwise of significance in terms of national security. The responsibility for providing advice to counter non-traditional threats will not always lie with the security staff and may often be provided by the appropriate Service, MOD or civil police agency. The main threats of this type are posed by investigative journalists, pressure groups, investigation agencies, criminal elements, disaffected staff, dishonest staff and computer hackers." (my bolds)

Here is a list of the types of threat from these sources can be categorized in seven broad groups: 

"1.) Confidentiality

Compromise of politically sensitive information. This threat is presented by: (1) Pressure groups and investigative journalists attempting to obtain sensitive information. (2) Unauthorized disclosure of official information (leaks).

2.) Exploitation of Sensitive Information

Debt collection agencies and investigation agencies are known to attempt to obtain personal information held in confidence by government. Investigative journalists have exploited personal tax information; they also target commercial and financial information as do criminal elements seeking financial advantage. 

3.) Theft, Burglary and Fraud

There is a growing threat of theft, particularly of IT equipment. Arms, ammunition and explosives are always at particular risk. Theft may occur through burglary or the actions of dishonest staff. Establishments responsible for the collection or disbursement of public funds are prone to fraud and there is an increasing threat of fraud through the manipulation of IT systems. 

4.) Corruption, Destruction, or Unauthorized Access to Computer Data

The integrity of data held on computer systems is under threat mainly from disaffected staff. Existing levels of programming expertise, the ready availability of malicious software, e.g. viruses, and the ease with which they can be deliberately or accidentally introduced, combine to create a substantial threat. It is apparent that some staff misguidedly interfere with or compromise systems. There is also a level of threat of damage resulting from the actions of hackers - either those with legitimate access to systems or those without such access. 

5.) Pressure Groups

Pressure groups for such causes as animal rights, nuclear disarmament and the environment will sometimes carry out demonstrations against MOD policy and activities. Although often confined to peaceful demonstrations, extremist elements can cause violent attacks on individuals and property, which can pose a threat as significant as terrorism. 

6.) Criminal Damage

Employees, dependants, visitors or intruders can carry out criminal damage. 

7.) Natural Disaster

Natural disasters are risks to the integrity or availability of facilities, buildings or equipment etc caused by such incidents as fire, flooding, subsidence, or lightning strike."

It is fascinating to see that, in adjacent paragraphs, the MoD is lumping spies, saboteurs, subversives and terrorists with investigative journalists since all five of these groups pose a threat to government security.  It is also lumping together the activities and goals of investigative journalists with theft, destruction and criminal damage to government databases and data infrastructure. 

Here is what the document has to say about "Leaks of Official Information":

"Leaks usually take the form of reports in the public media which appear to involve the unauthorised disclosure of official information (whether protectively marked or not) that causes political harm or embarrassment to either the UK Government or the Department concerned. Such disclosure may have been made either orally, whether deliberately or carelessly, or following the unauthorised sight or passage of a document. Information that is formally reported as lost to a security authority, and subsequently appears in the public media, should not be treated as a leak but judged to be a compromise of lost information and treated as a loss.

First news of a leak may come direct from a journalist attempting either to verify the information obtained or wishing the Department or agency to know what access to official information has been gained. In the rare cases where this occurs prior to publication, it may be possible to seek an injunction to prevent publication."

You will notice that, once again, the United Kingdom government and its Ministry of Defense are vilifying the public media as a whole and journalists in particular.

While this document is from the United Kingdom and represents its viewpoint on security threats, my suspicion is that the British government and its war machine do not stand alone when it comes to its views on the threats posed by investigative journalism and the media as a whole.  After all, the last thing that governments around the world want is for the light to shine on their secret activities, secrets which are under threat from investigative journalists and organizations like WikiLeaks.

1 comment:

  1. Julian Assange being arrested after his nearly seven-year stay in the Ecuadorian embassy does not bode well for freedom lovers. Assange and Wikileaks are guilty of warning us of what our government is doing and revealing a few of its dirty little secrets which embarrassed those in positions of power. More on Assange and the motivation behind this action in the article below.