State Pulls the Plug On SIPRNet

  • Share
  • Read Later

Late last week, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton informed the White House of the likely fall-out from the WikiLeaks cable dump, the White House came back with a question: “What’s our corrective action?”

Clinton’s undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy, had a simple suggestion: pull the plug on SIPRNet, the classified DoD network that PFC Bradley Manning reportedly used to download the cables from State’s inhouse classified database. “The White House said do it,” says a senior administration official.

The publication by WikiLeaks of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables, many of them classified, is forcing an administration-wide intelligence retrenchment as agencies reconsider how to balance the need to share with the need to know. With its third major dump of controversial classified information in nine months, WikiLeaks is single-handedly tipping the balance back towards inter-agency “stovepiping”, or walling off information from other departments.

Post 9.11 the imperative from Congress and the White House was to break down the “stovepipes” that prevented sharing across the so-called intelligence community—the sprawling collection of intelligence offices in more than a dozen different agencies across the U.S. government and around the world.

At State, they created the “Net-Centric Diplomacy” database or NCD, where State stored classified information up to the top secret level. Agencies across government had access to that database through their own secure networks. In DoD’s case the network, created in 1995, was called the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet.

Late last week, at Kennedy’s recommendation and the White House’s approval, State disconnected SIPRNet from the NCD, senior administration officials tell Time. “Obviously there were some gaps within SIPRNet that DoD is actively correcting,” the senior administration official says, “And as a temporary precaution we have disconnected SIPRNet from the NCD.”

How long is temporary? DoD is investigating how Manning managed to download all those cables and get them to WikiLeaks, the senior administration officials tell Time. So far they have concluded that the failure came at Dod’s Central Command, the combatant command responsible for the middle east, which employed Manning in Iraq. Prior to Manning’s download, users of SIPRNet had been blocked from downloading data to removable media.

But at some point that restriction was lifted across all of CentCom. DoD has been reimposing restrictions since the July dump of Afghanistan war documents by WikiLeaks. DoD has blocked the use of removable media; they have required in some cases a “dual key” system that requires a second user to approve moving data from a higher classification system to a lower classification system; and they are installing software programs to monitor unusual activity.

DoD is not completely cut off from State’s database. A separate system for the transmission of top secret information, the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System or JWICS, is still linked to the NCD. And State may reconnect SIPRNet in the future. “Once DoD has gone through and made its corrections on SIPRNet we’ll reevaluate whether to reconnect,” the senior administration official says.