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‘Need to Know’ Not Necessarily Safer

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The government is in the business of keeping secrets. As we saw with the latest WikiLeaks debacle, those secrets are become harder and harder for the government to keep.

Calls for transparency and open communication between agencies in the wake of terrorist plots seem laudable, even practical. Sharing vital information is paramount to successful security. But in so doing, is the government creating a larger security issue that overshadows any benefit to sharing privileged information?

Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, now national security adviser to CSC, Samuel Visner, vice president of CSC and a former chief of signals intelligence programs at the NSA, and William Courtney, a CSC executive and former ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia, don’t think so.

In an op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun this week, the three argue sharing information is worth the risk, but only if the risk is mitigated by solid security practices and technology to protect secure disclosures.

“The principle of ‘need to know’ requires segmenting information according to sensitivity and topic,” the op-ed said. “Sharing must strike a balance between protecting security and fostering collaboration across all levels of government and, often, the private sector.”

For example, the three state it’s not necessary for soldiers to have access to diplomatic cables, but having access to real-time data from multiple government agencies, as to whether someone at a road checkpoint is a person of interest is vital.

So how does the government strike this balance?

The op-ed lays out a roadmap suggesting the government implement security clearances based on the type of information accessible rather than the agency that employs the person, thus avoiding another WikiLeak dump.

The three also suggest enhanced cybersecurity tools to detect breaches such as downloading, copying or printing numerous documents, and recommend the government treat security with more rigor, enforce rules more consistently and offer better training.

Will these precautions stop all leaks? Probably not, but the three contend an attempt at balance is far more productive than a return to a strict “need to know.”

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