Too Many Secrets, the Greatest Math Discovery, and More

The Wikileaks publication of tens of thousands of classified U.S. military records last week is inevitably prompting a review of information security practices to identify remedial steps.  I have been arguing that one of those steps ought to be a rethinking of classification policy.  “The reform that may be needed more urgently than any other is a careful reduction in the size of the secrecy system.”  See “Afghan Leaks: Is the U.S. Keeping Too Many Secrets?” by Alex Altman, Time, July 30.

The Department of Defense has updated its doctrine on “foreign internal defense,” which refers to actions taken to support a foreign government’s efforts to combat domestic subversion, insurgency or terrorism.  See Joint Publication 3-22, “Foreign Internal Defense,” July 12, 2010.

“The Army in Multinational Operations” is the subject of a newly updated U.S. Army Field Manual, FM 3-16, May 2010.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), whose essays transformed Western consciousness and literature, was not capable of solving basic arithmetic problems.  And most other people would not be able to do so either, if not for the invention of decimal notation by an unknown mathematician in India 1500 years ago.  That is the contention of a neat little essay recently published by the Department of Energy (based in part on a book by Georges Ifrah).  See “The Greatest Mathematical Discovery?” by David H. Bailey and Jonathan M. Borwein, May 12, 2010.

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  1. Irving August 2, 2010 at 12:00 PM #

    Steven, you’re probably aware of this but it is worth some emphasis: the major problem is that exchanges in the field have been incorporated into the general document classification process since they exist in stored, machine-readable form. In past conflicts, such reports evaporated in the ether as radio, oral or written missives. There was no record of battlefield intelligence or operations–only after action reports that were highly selective.

    Thus, while the system BBC (before battlefield computers) provided little historical documentation of value to an opposing intelligence service, it was vulnerable to manipulation by our own PR operations as in Vietnam. Soldiers in the field, for example, would send back reports to Saigon that were suppressed and recast to imply military successes that didn’t exist. Higher echelons could suppress or manipulate data of malfeasance such as the My Lai massacre, etc. VC and North Vietnamese forces had to intercept this information to gain any use.

    Today, for some reason unknown to me, all field exchanges are incorporated into stored files vulnerable to access (these are “secret” or below classifications), inviting scrutiny. The “top secret” stuff is usually battle plans, order of battle, etc and while important do not contain the wealth of information of value to a battlefield intelligence operation.

    While the release of names is reprehensible in that it puts at risk “collaborators” and their families, it is doubtful that the Taliban are ignorant of those who actively oppose them. They are highly indiscriminate in their attacks and the nature of such assassination operations is such that a lot of innocent people are going to be killed regardless. I am reminded of my former French instructor at West Point who, as the colonel in charge of intelligence for I corps in Vietnam, was in the habit of marking ARVN officers whom he suspected of being double agents for assassination (in a subsequent review it was found that nearly all were innocent). He would routinely dump bodies in the ocean until he was finally found out, quietly shipped back to the US to live out retirement on his farm in Ohio.

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