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WikiLeaks farce raises dreadful possibilities

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Historians may someday look back upon the WikiLeaks scandal as emblematic of the sad state of U.S. national security in the age of Barack Obama.

Consider a recent New York Times profile of Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army private suspected of giving WikiLeaks an estimated 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables, more than 90,000 classified U.S. intelligence reports concerning the war in Afghanistan, and the classified video of a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq that accidentally killed three innocent people. The image presented by the Times of Manning downloading and then lip-synching Lady Gaga tunes as he copied thousands of classified government documents represents the intersection point of a number of extraordinarily distressing questions.

First, who in the Department of Defense approved Manning as an intelligence analyst with a top-secret security clearance? There were abundant warning signs of trouble before and after the clearance was awarded, including his loss of a pre-enlistment job owing to his having the “personality of a bull in a china shop,” according to the Times, and his numerous links to a hacker community centered at Brandeis University.

Second, is the U.S. government’s national security system really so compromised that Pentagon officials only now are implementing such obvious fail-safe measures as requiring at least two people to approve the transfer of secret documents or data to nonclassified systems or to unsecured hardware? The Department of Defense has spent hundreds of billions of tax dollars during and since the Cold War on supposedly state-of-the-art digital information security measures to ensure the wrong eyes could not see this country’s secrets.

With the Manning case, however, we must now wonder who else besides Chinese military hackers have downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents but have yet to be discovered.

And that point brings us to the last and most disturbing questions presented by the WikiLeaks debacle: In a world of digital weak spots ranging from individuals like Manning to super-stealth cyberbugs such as Stuxnet, can the U.S. or any other nation know with genuine confidence that anything it believes to be secure actually is? Can we be sure that in the event of a catastrophic attack upon the country, American countermeasures won’t be rendered useless by a digital weapon now lurking unseen and unsuspected somewhere in the digital bowels of the Pentagon?

Frightful as such questions surely are, Americans must demand honest answers before it is too late.