Balancing the need to know in the wake of WikiLeaks (Rep. Michael T. McCaul)

The three major document releases by WikiLeaks contained information allegedly obtained through a deliberate act of treason by an individual intent on violating his oath to support and defend the United States.  It’s believed U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning copied close to a million files from secure government computer networks and leaked them to an organization determined to undermine the credibility of the United States.  Gone are the days when a damaging leak meant a handful of classified papers.  Now, with a CD or thumb drive, large volumes of data can be copied and transmitted with the touch of a button.   

As the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the co-chair of the Cyber Security caucus, it is my priority to ensure the protection of sensitive and classified information from our enemies.  The data released by WikiLeaks over the past few months includes information on how we conduct military operations and diplomacy, allowing terrorists to better prepare for future attacks against the United States.  

I agree with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s assessment that this most recent disclosure puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.  The world does not need to know the intricacies of our foreign policy maneuvers as we attempt to contain rogue states, such as Iran and North Korea, and pursue high value terrorist targets.  Yet WikiLeaks published such classified diplomatic correspondence with complete disregard for their sensitivity. 

The release of the diplomatic cables is not only a breach of trust, but could also have a chilling effect on vital information sharing that protects both the United States and its allies from harm.  From our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to growing threats to the U.S. and others stemming from Yemen and Somalia, we rely on our friends throughout the world to contribute critical information and work with us to develop strategies for future action. 

As in any line of work where a certain amount of discretion and confidentiality is warranted, the United States must be able to hold frank and open discussions with other countries without fear of retribution.  Domestic politics prevent some governments from publically expressing support for certain policies and strategies; however, through backchannel diplomatic efforts, the United States can work with them to achieve common objectives. 

Since September 11th, 2001, we, as a nation, have agreed that information sharing is imperative to national security.  While we have made great strides in achieving that goal, this recent breach demonstrates that we must further integrate our efforts to protect sensitive information.  The executive branch is already examining security procedures in an attempt to limit access to classified material.  I believe we need to conduct a thorough review of how data is classified, stored, and accessed to ensure the information is protected, yet readily available to key government agencies working together to defend our nation.  I look forward to holding hearings about these important issues during the next Congress.

Ultimately, we must strike a balance between the need to share and the need to know.  It is paramount that those with the need to know are able to effectively carry out their duties, but are held fully accountable for the information we entrust to them.