Pentagon to Bolster Security Measures After Discord Leak

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A Defense Department intelligence review recommended the U.S. military revise policies governing how secret information is handled, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday.

The assessment comes after Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old Air National Guardsman from Massachusetts, was accused in April of leaking hundreds of top-secret documents online. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a 45-day review of Pentagon policies to deliver findings and recommendations to improve processes and prevent such damaging disclosures in the future.

The review did not focus on the case of Teixeira, who pleaded not guilty last month to federal criminal charges. Instead, it examined the Defense Department policies and conditions that may have contributed to the intelligence breach. Hundreds of pages of classified documents—detailing everything from disagreements with allies to tactical positions in the Ukraine war—sat on Discord chat servers for more than a month before they were discovered by the media and government.

“There wasn’t a single point of failure,” a senior Defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters Wednesday. “There are contributing factors to any security incident. And so, this was an opportunity…to make sure that we made the improvements that we could.”

Read More: Why the U.S. Security-Clearance Process Has a Digital Blind Spot.

The review focused on four areas: personnel security, information safeguarding and accountability, physical security, and education and training. On June 30, Austin sent a memo to all Defense Department personnel that required managers to take “follow-on actions” that would aim to enhance detection of “insider threats” and improve information-sharing.

The government is already working toward a semi-automated “continuous vetting” program which checks people’s records against commercial and government data and flags potential risks. Austin ordered the Pentagon’s Chief Information Officer to work with the Chief Data and Artificial Intelligence Officer to come up with better data-reporting and analysis. He also called for the establishment of an office whose mission is to hunt for suspicious activity on government networks. Such measures will almost certainly require more funding and personnel in the years to come.

In his memo, Austin wrote that while most people with access to national security secrets are trustworthy, the military needs to tighten security measures. Part of that is determining whether too many people have access to secret documents. Teixeira, for example, was a low-level airman who worked in IT but he did have access to an internal network called the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), where top secret intelligence shared all day, every day. The Justice Department wrote in a May court filing that Air Force superiors repeatedly admonished Teixeira over several months for accessing and taking notes on classified intelligence information that was outside his job responsibility.

Read More: Teixeira’s Intel Unit Ordered to Halt Mission After Discord Leaks.

The senior Defense official who spoke to reporters said that the rising number of people with access to top-secret information is a complex issue the Pentagon needs to confront. This growth, which began after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, has led to a patchwork of classification policies that confuses security managers, the official said.

Austin’s memo gives Pentagon managers up to three months to implement the “follow-on” actions. Separately, the U.S. Air Force inspector general launched a probe in April that is still ongoing.

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