It is important for the public to realize that this was not the work of a rogue hacker looking for state secrets.  The information was allegedly collected by an authorized user, granted a top secret security clearance by the Department of Defense and stationed in Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division.  Bradley Manning, the 23 year old Army Private First Class (PFC) is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico, Va. for allegedly leaking the information.  While Manning has not been formally charged with leaking the 250,000 plus State Department cables to Wikileaks, he is considered the prime suspect.  While in Iraq, it was Manning’s responsibility to disseminate intelligence to his superiors.  According to press reports, Manning would arrive at his computer with a CD filled with music, would erase the disk, and then fill it with a massive compressed file, which he, allegedly, gave to Wikileaks.

Some may be asking why Manning would want to divulge this sensitive information to the public or why Assange would release the cables after ignoring a stern warning from the State Department.  My initial question, however, is different.  Why is it that a PFC was granted access to this information?  Did Manning really need to know about Moammar Gaghafi’s “Senior Ukranian nurse”?  Does a 23 year old PFC need access to information about private conversations with Yemeni President Saleh or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia?  Probably not.

After 9/11, steps were taken to share information between agencies in an attempt to foster greater cooperation.  While the concept is good, in this instance, things clearly went too far and too much access was granted.  That Manning was able to sit at his computer in Iraq and – to quote the Los Angeles Times – “download to [his] heart’s content” is unacceptable.  Make no mistake, sharing information between agencies is good policy.  But  that good intent is turned bad by the apparent lack of proper technological safeguards employed in this instance.  It was recently reported that 40 percent of the Pentagon’s secure computers do not have monitoring software installed on them.  The Department of Defense is accelerating steps to close this gap but, clearly, the cost of past inaction is devastating.

The good news is that the most sensitive “Top Secret” information was not included on Manning’s stolen files.  The good news ends there.  The information contained in the over 250,000 cables given to Wikileaks – some of it classified as “Secret” – describes private conversations with world leaders as well as honest, frank assessments from some of our nation’s top diplomats.  As has become obvious, this information is meant to be kept confidential for a reason.  Such information and advice is essential to a bold, robust foreign policy that my colleagues and I constantly advocate.  Its release is dangerous and irresponsible.  Common sense procedures must be implemented to ensure that a system that allowed PFC Manning to gain access to this material with little apparent oversight or monitoring does not remain in place.  As for PFC Manning, he will have his day in a U.S. court of law.  I hope Mr. Assange gets the same treatment.