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For the 500,000-plus cleared users of SIPRNet, there are few barriers to access once they are logged on, said Mr. Rice, now the head of security for a global Internet firm. “Once you’re in … you basically have access to anything in there.”
When Mr. Rice was a user, “I was amazed at the information that was out there,” he said, declining to give any specifics. He was especially surprised, given the size of the user base with access. “It is too big, too uncontrolled,” he said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, agreed that “part of the problem” is the broad distribution of intelligence that has been promoted since Sept. 11, with intelligence agencies urged to replace their traditional reliance on “need to know” with a new focus on “need to share.”
“Both concepts - ‘need to know’ and ‘need to share’ - must be carefully reviewed and changed,” she said in a statement, adding that at present, “hundreds of thousands of individuals receive intelligence” that they do not need.
Mr. Rice noted the fact that Pfc. Manning was caught only after he confessed in an online chat to a former hacker who turned him in to the authorities. “If he wasn’t such a braggart, he’d have gotten clean away,” he said.
This was especially alarming because it indicated that there was no monitoring of downloading by SIPRNet users.
“Who was watching the stable door before the horse was stolen?” Mr. Rice said. “How could that much data leave SIPRNet without anyone knowing about it?”
Mr. Rogers agreed: “The way they handled this was negligent. … It is mind-boggling because we know the technology exists to prevent this.”
He added that he is “concerned” about what he described as “almost a cavalier attitude” among officials towards the details of information-sharing policy.
But other lawmakers were pushing back this week against what they saw as an overreaction - presaging possible conflict about the issue across party lines and complicated by the jurisdictional issues involved between the intelligence, armed services and government oversight committees.
“There was no ‘rush’ to increase information-sharing after Sept. 11,” Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, said in an e-mailed statement.
“It has been a long, painstaking process to increase information to those who need to have it,” Mr. Bond said. “I think the solution is not to share less, but to improve auditing and control of the information so that this kind of mass download cannot happen again.”
But even those critical of SIPRNet access arrangements cautioned against congressional overreaction. “We’ve got to get the information into the right hands,” Mr. Ruppersberger said. “We can’t go back to the stovepipes we had before Sept. 11.”
Mr. Ruppersberger said that establishing accountability for the breach is important.
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