Editorial: Top-secret leaks show classified intel system breakdown


The Washington Post

Any breach in the integrity of the nation’s system of managing secrets is a cause for serious concern.

The leaks of classified intelligence documents online through Discord, a platform popular with gamers, appears to have compromised fresh and highly sensitive intelligence, a breach that is damaging and also underscores that the system of managing secrets is in deep crisis.

This does not appear at this early stage to be a case of foreign espionage, although the documents certainly have had sufficient time to fall into the wrong hands. It does not seem to involve a principled whistleblower, calling attention to wrongdoing or a coverup. Nor does it appear to be leaks made from a conviction that secrets must be shared to assure a more informed public, as has often been the case when classified material is passed to journalists. This is not the Pentagon Papers.

A description of the suspect and his motivations, published by The Post earlier this month, came from a young friend with firsthand experience on the server and suggests the leader of the online group was driven by bravado, ego and anger. He complained of government overreach and flaunted the material to those around him — sometimes with racist and anti-Semitic slurs. The Post described him as having “persuaded some highly impressionable teenagers that he’s a modern-day gamer meets Jason Bourne.”

After The Post published its report, the Justice Department announced the arrest of Jack Teixeira, an airman with the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

Keeping secrets is essential to a functioning government. Breaking the laws for a psychic joyride is a despicable betrayal of trust and oaths. In the course of the investigation, it should be determined why such highly classified materials were available to someone of a junior enlisted rank and why they were apparently sitting on a gaming server for a month before U.S. officials realized it.

The U.S. classification system for managing secrets is overwhelmed. The Public Interest Declassification Board warned three years ago of an explosion of digital information that will further strain the system and outlined a vision for modernization. And as the Post editorial board has argued, too much national security information is classified and too little declassified.

The classification process should be simplified into two tiers, “secret” and “top secret,” eliminating the lower “confidential” level and reducing the number of people with access to the highest levels.

If there is anything positive to come out of the Discord leaks, it should be an overhaul to better protect and manage the nation’s most valuable secrets.

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