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Wikileaks Cables: U.S. Official Was Frustrated About German Data Security Concerns

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, November 30 2010

Irony, defined: Among the secret U.S. State Department cables released by Wikileaks on Sunday are some in which American officials complain about German concerns over the U.S.'s privacy and data security practices.

"The exaggerated data privacy views of the current minority governing partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), have contributed to a domestic discussion that distorts U.S. policy and is negatively-influencing the European debate," a U.S. Embassy official in Berlin wrote in a memo from Jan. 2010, according to the information released by Wikileaks.

The explanation from the same memo seems to paint the FDP's concerns as out of touch with best practice in the 21st century:

The FDP returned to power after a ten-year foray in the opposition and key leaders lack experience in the practical matters of tackling real-world security issues in the Internet age. In our meetings we have made the point that countering terrorism in a globalized world, where terrorists and their supporters use open borders and information technology to quickly move people and financing, requires robust international data sharing. We need to also demonstrate that the U.S. has strong data privacy measures in place so that robust data sharing comes with robust data protections.

The cable was signed "Murphy." Writing about a separate cable signed the same way, IT News speculates that the writer was U.S. Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy.

During a press briefing Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to confirm or deny the authenticity of the cables Wikileaks has released.

"I can say that the United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential, including private discussions between counterparts or our diplomats’ personal assessments and observations," she said, according to a State Department press release. "I want to make clear that our official foreign policy is not set through these messages, but here in Washington. Our policy is a matter of public record, as reflected in our statements and our actions around the world."

IT News and Third Party Daily have already spotted an earlier memo in their perusal of the released communications that is similar to the January 2010 communication. The memo they found, from late 2009, also expresses frustration with German security concerns.

In late May or early June, 22-year-old Army Private First Class Bradley Manning was arrested and accused of obtaining, then leaking to Wikileaks, over 250,000 secret or classified U.S. diplomatic cables, a video of a U.S. Army helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which two journalists working for Reuters were shot and killed, and other items.

According to a Wired article from June, Manning described his actions to former computer hacker Adrian Lamo in online chats. Here's how he described obtaining all of this classified material from an Army base outside of Baghdad where he worked and smuggling it away from supposedly secure systems, according to the article:

As described by Manning in his chats with Lamo, his purported leaking was made possible by lax security online and off.

Manning had access to two classified networks from two separate secured laptops: SIPRNET, the Secret-level network used by the Department of Defense and the State Department, and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System which serves both agencies at the Top Secret/SCI level.

The networks, he said, were both “air gapped” from unclassified networks, but the environment at the base made it easy to smuggle data out.

“I would come in with music on a CD-RW labeled with something like ‘Lady Gaga,’ erase the music then write a compressed split file,” he wrote. “No one suspected a thing and, odds are, they never will.”

“[I] listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone’ while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history,” he added later. ”Weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counter-intelligence, inattentive signal analysis … a perfect storm.”

Wikileaks has released online the first few hundred of over 250,000 purported internal State Department communications, dating back to 1966, that it has already given over to major media outlets around the world, such as the New York Times and Der Spiegel.

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