the past few days the media has reported - some might say, speculated -
about unauthorized release within the Department of State of the
passport file/s relating to Senator Barrack H. Obama. Passport files
don’t contain much information not otherwise readily - probably too
readily - available to those who know how to gather information about
people. Further, there is speculation - indeed, some allegations -
that the release was politically motivated (whether to help or hurt the
Obama candidacy being unclear).
of these considerations is the point of this Commentary. Rather, the
point is that the focus is upon one or more intermediate-level
employees as the culprit.
sees more and more reports of unauthorized leaks and disclosures of
personal information. These offenses often include huge batches of
credit-card information and/or other data which facilitate identity
theft or just plain theft.
a different context, which to our national security is worse, highly
confidential information about military and other national-security
matters from time to time is leaked, stolen or otherwise disclosed.
week I was privileged to hear a talk at a Military Order of the Carabao
luncheon, of which organization I am a member. (In spite of the unique
name, derived from a history of United States Military duty in the Philippines and a touch of
humor, the luncheons produce highly qualified speakers, many of whom
mostly talk about military, foreign-relations, security matters or a
combination.) Last week’s speaker was Northrop Grumman Corporation Vice
President for Intelligence Programs Richard L. Haver, who has
considerable nongovernmental and quasi-governmental experience in
pointed out, citing a number of examples, that from post-World War II
on, so many individuals who have compromised security information have
been intermediate-level personnel. He also mentioned that, aside from
some of the Communist spies of the 1940s, many people who compromise
security information do so for personal monetary gain, to fulfill a
mentally screwball motivation or in furtherance of some kind of
irrationality. (However, it well may be that some more current
culprits are motivated by their religious cause.) In a lighter, but
still serious, note, he also pointed out the strong law-enforcement and
scientific disagreement about the worth of polygraphs - an observation
many judges and attorneys share; and read a few questions from
ridiculous and self-serving questionnaires some Federal agencies use.
relevant point is identical whether the issue is personal
confidentiality, identity theft, corporate or other business records,
national security or any other motivation, with the possible occasional
exception of religious terrorism. The point substantively is that most
of the time the individual leaking or stealing information is a middle-
or intermediate-level employee or contractor.
thus behooves the Federal Government - as well as other governments,
businesses, academic institutions, charities and any other employer -
realistically to “vet” and to observe an employee, contractor or
consultant who has access to confidential data. In this age of
ubiquitous computers and all kinds of stored confidential and
top-secret information, the task is more difficult and more essential
than ever. In too many cases the Federal Government can’t tell
individuals and industry what to do but the Feds can begin by minding
their own data inventories.