Defense Department Blocks All Web Access To The Guardian In Response To NSA Leaks

from the head-in-sand dept

Once again, the US government appears to be taking an incredible head-in-sand approach to the various leaks about NSA surveillance. The latest is that the Defense Department is now telling everyone in the DoD to block access to The Guardian’s website, which was seen very clearly after it was discovered that the US army is blocking access to the Guardian’s website from all Army computers. This is not only petty and stupid, but useless. First of all, while the Guardian has been breaking much of the news about the leaks, it’s all picked up quickly elsewhere and discussed widely. Pretending that blocking the Guardian has any impact is just pure cluelessness in action. Second, just because the Guardian has broken some news stories, it doesn’t mean it makes sense to block the entire site. That is only going to pique more interest from folks in the Army and the wider Defense Department who are now going to be curious why the government is banning access to one of the biggest newspaper websites in the world. The whole thing smacks of stupid desperation: it doesn’t stop the leaks from happening, it doesn’t stop anyone in the army from finding out about the leaks, it just seems petty and designed to alert more people that the Guardian is the source to follow on these leaks.

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Comments on “Defense Department Blocks All Web Access To The Guardian In Response To NSA Leaks”

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61 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

Streisand. Military version.

It’s amusing and amazing how they manage to make the situation worse every time they take any action. A political scientist once told me that there’s an older, generally rotten generation holding the power right now that doesn’t grasp the Intertubes and the new social organization. And that this would hasten their downfall.

Here’s hoping they fall fast and painfully.

Anonymous Coward says:

The US has specific guidelines on how to handle classified data. Having a ‘secret’ clearance does not qualify someone to see ALL secret documents; it’s very much a ‘need to know’ situation. I would guess that, as a precaution, they blocked the site so classified material that should not belong on Defense Department-owned computers did not end up on Defense Department-owned computers. This is pretty standard, and is certainly not newsworthy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Except for the fact that classifications on documents mean jack and shit once they’re released to the public. Stop being silly and remove the classification already. Only a bureaucrat is capable of that level of self-delusion. To say that they’re going ostrich is an insult to ostriches everywhere. The only possible purpose this serves is a dumbass attempt at perpetuating group think.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

As I said, they have specific guidelines that they must follow, no matter how ridiculous they may be. Yes the documents are public and yes there are a million news stories about them. That doesn’t mean the Defense Department can just ditch those guidelines. It’s silly, but it’s the rules. Those Defense Department employees can go home and happily check out the Guardian, but they can’t at work on government computers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

To clarify, when I say ‘guidelines’ I mean very clear rules. It’s much, much easier to block the site than to deal with the bureaucracy of reporting a security breach. And the block only applies to the government’s computers. Any of these people can go home and read the docs (whether they’re allowed to according to the security clearance rules or not).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I think you’re missing my point. It’s about keeping classified documents off of unclassified government computers. It has nothing to do about the refusal to think. Those military folk can go home and view the news. They can pull out their cellphone and view the news. Easy as that. This whole story is being reported at a lot of media outlets and it’s really a non-issue. It’s about making headlines, nothing else.

Paul L (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Some people are just choosing to miss the point here, AC… Can’t do much about that until they decide to give the ego a rest and actually absorb some new information about why these blocks occur on unclassified systems (and similar reactions all across corporate and bank networks, albeit for different types of data) you’re not going to get much traction in a rational discussion.

It’s kind of like trying to talk about copyright infringement at a reasonable and rational level with the MPAA.

Paul L (profile) says:

It's getting old, Mike

The whole thing smacks of stupid desperation: it doesn’t stop the leaks from happening, it doesn’t stop anyone in the army from finding out about the leaks, it just seems petty and designed to alert more people that the Guardian is the source to follow on these leaks.

It might smack of stupid desperation of the PURPOSE of the block was to;
a) stop leaks
b) stop anyone in the army from finding out about the leaks

The reality of the situation is the point of the block is to keep classified documents off unclassified government systems. This is akin to a credit card company accidentally publishing a massive list of CC #’s, discovering the leak and then just leaving the information up because “it’s public anyway” or leaving those files on their servers in plain text because “the accounts were cancelled anyway”. When the automated systems, internal auditors, or external auditing partners look at those systems and find the dumps of plain text CC #’s it causes compliance issues. It’s unrealistic to expect the auditors in these situations to have to then go search to find out if each occurrence of unencrypted CC #’s is “legitimate” because they are invalid or had already been made public.

I know it’s really easy to make an assumption as to why certain directives are made. It’s easy to take it down the worst path possible if you so choose. But doing either of the above is only useful if you’re trying to push an agenda and not actually a fair assessment of what’s going on and why some of these decisions are made.

RyanNerd (profile) says:

Re: It's getting old, Mike

I guess you have a point. The military I guess had to pretend to do something so it could at least look like it was being proactive.
But why just block Guardian? If there is such a huge security risk they should unplug all of their servers and throw them into a dark empty warehouse where there is no possibility of any information being accessed by anyone.
The military could go back to using typewriters. That would make everything secure. With no access to anything on an electronic network there would never be any possibility that leaks could occur (right?!?)
Sorry. I have to go with Mike on this one.
The military head is stuck deep in the sand.

Paul L (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's getting old, Mike

Well, I question some of the facts in the story already. I have received no directives to block the Guardian’s web site. Maybe it just hasn’t gotten here yet, but to say that all of DoD has been directed to block the Guardian’s web site does not appear to be true.

Visiting these sites that contain classified information from unclassified machines isn’t a security risk in the traditional sense. Making the assumption that the point of these blocks is to “stop military personnel from reading the truth” or that it somehow is done in an effort to increase logical security is where the whole thing breaks down.

If you are WILLFULLY choosing to believe that the purpose of the block is for reasons other than what they really are; there’s not much point in discussion. If you take the time to understand WHY blocks like this are put into place it makes a lot more sense.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: It's getting old, Mike

It might smack of stupid desperation of the PURPOSE of the block was to;
a) stop leaks
b) stop anyone in the army from finding out about the leaks

And yet it fails at both of those. And fails badly, making the DoD look pretty stupid in the process. I prefer to think that the military that defends me has a reality-based approach to things, not one that requires them to stick their head in the sand and make pretend whenever something like this happens.

The reality of the situation is the point of the block is to keep classified documents off unclassified government systems

I understand that. I’m saying that makes no sense because it makes no sense to claim that those documents are still classified once EVERYONE in the public has them.

This is akin to a credit card company accidentally publishing a massive list of CC #’s, discovering the leak and then just leaving the information up because “it’s public anyway” or leaving those files on their servers in plain text because “the accounts were cancelled anyway”.

No, it’s not like that at all. Because that’s a situation where we’re talking about information directly on servers they control. But blocking access to entire websites? That’s like saying that if you work for Visa, you can’t visit the NY Times if they reported on the leak of those credit cards.

It’s unrealistic to expect the auditors in these situations to have to then go search to find out if each occurrence of unencrypted CC #’s is “legitimate” because they are invalid or had already been made public.

No, but it IS realistic to say that (a) this particular information is no longer secret and (b) blocking access to an entire news website is moronic and makes us look petty.

I know it’s really easy to make an assumption as to why certain directives are made. It’s easy to take it down the worst path possible if you so choose. But doing either of the above is only useful if you’re trying to push an agenda and not actually a fair assessment of what’s going on and why some of these decisions are made.

I’ve heard this excuse before, as you know, and it still makes no sense to me. Sorry, no one has given a good reason for why blocking access to a news website here makes any sense at all.

Paul L (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's getting old, Mike

If you think through this to it’s logical conclusion; some questions beg to be answered.

Who’s responsibility is it to scour the Internet, world newspapers, TV broadcasts, etc. to try and identify what “Classified” information has been leaked?

What would the process be for taking marked classified documents on an unclassified system and identifying them as the specific documents that were leaked and suddenly should now lose their classification status?

How do you teach automated systems that look for classified data on unclassified systems how to determine if a particular document is still classified or not?

For me; it seems like the same argument that you make about Youtube trying to decide if a piece of content is infringing or not. You’re asking me to spend all my time trying to research any classified documents I find to determine if they’ve been leaked and are now unclassified? That’s an INSANE undertaking that would cost considerable amounts of taxpayer dollars to achieve.

I don’t agree that an entire SITE should be blocked. I think that move is a bit lazy, but I don’t agree that blocking access to classified content from unclassified government systems is a bad thing. The last thing I need to be doing on a daily basis is chasing my tail trying to figure out what’s been leaked and what isn’t. I have more productive ways of spending my time.

There’s no “make pretend” going on here. It’s simply maintaining compliance until such time that classified documents are unclassified by their originators.

The credit card analogy got twisted a bit. My point is that said unencrypted card data SHOULD NOT BE ON CC PROCESSING SYSTEMS because that creates an enormous amount of work for those who have the job of keeping said data secure. The said goes for classified data on UNCLASSIFIED systems. Blocking the URL that contains the content (in this case, the entire site) PREVENTS that content from being copied to a government system; wherein the issues of data classification arise. In both cases; the issue is with the protected data being on unprotected systems.

You can hear the excuse as much as you want; and it won’t make sense to you until you CHOOSE to understand why the directives exist in the first place.

I saw a video a couple weeks ago about a study in pedestrian traffic management. The study (with testing) showed that putting something like a bollard in FRONT of a doorway actually makes the traffic flow in/out of said doorway far more efficient because it reduces the bunching that occurs when multiple people try to squeeze through simultaneously. Now, if someone who didn’t see this video saw a bollard in front of a doorway; they would likely jump to the conclusion that it’s completely idiotic to do as it will impede foot traffic. The key they are missing is the understanding of why it was put there in the first place.

Look, I love this site and really agree and enjoy about 99% of what you write here. It’s good stuff and in many all cases it’s well researched and understood. But I’m not a sheep; I go do my own research and try and understand BOTH perspectives of any given issue. I think it would be beneficial if you did the same with this instance. Reach out and try and understand the details behind the WHY. Don’t just fabricate your own intent (to stop the Army from reading the TRUTH) and run with it to make everyone else look like idiots.

Information is powerful.

Dave Xanatos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: It's getting old, Mike

Your questions only “beg to be answered” in the context of a flawed viewpoint. You talk of a system that would have to be created to decide if content is “still” classified if it is found publicly. Instead of trying to determine if public information should be declassified, acknowledge that public information is already declassified. Don’t try to conform reality to the system, conform the system to reality. Much easier, that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Posting AC for a bit of safety [ha]

All this hiding the internet from the military I find hugely amusing. One of my customers and friend runs the intel dept at our local special ops base. He’s also a key player in the local tea party.
It sure looks like the higher ups did a good job of pulling the wool over his eyes! Not to mention that the majority of people who make a military base operational are now contractors and don’t have to play by the same rules as the enlisted folks.

Nicholas Weaver (profile) says:

Its necessary for them to do...

The US government has no notion of “its already out there”: If a document is classified Top Secret, having it discovered on an unclassified computer is bad, VERY BAD. The easiest cleanup procedure usually is “wipe the whole computer”.

It doesn’t matter if copies of the document are on the front page of every newspaper in the country, scattered across a hundred flyers, and sent a thousand times to every general, colonel, and corporal in the army, its still classified.

Paul L (profile) says:

Re: Re: Its necessary for them to do...

What’s more amusing is that you believe wiping a computer and reinstalling is a difficult task.

If I need to wipe a machine to remove classified data, it takes a whopping 13 minutes to go from a machine containing spillage to a completely reimaged workstation ready for the user to log back in. And it’s not a one at a time deal either; we can do dozens upon dozens simultaneously with no issues.

That aside; Nicholas didn’t say that the Army was going to be “wholesale wiping all their computers”, you did. Just more manufactured outrage.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Its necessary for them to do...

If there’s nothing useful on your computers but OS and software, why have computers at all? Just go back to dumb terminals already. If people would object to wiping, there must be important data on them that would be lost. If you let them back up their data first, the objectionable material might spread. If people have to save all their data on servers, would you wipe the server?

BTW, I’m not outraged, just depressed. Much like most of your workers I would assume.

Paul L (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Its necessary for them to do...

There actually are efforts underway to move towards virtualized desktops, so moving back towards “dumb terminals” is already happening in a 2013 kind of way.

The reality is that users are still using Windows 7 desktops and applications. It’s just that the imaging process, and software install processes can be largely automated and made very efficient. All the base applications used by pretty much everyone are part of the image, other specific applications might be delivered as ThinApp packages and/or directly installed for that unique user as part of the imaging process.

In terms of wiping classified data off unclassified machines; the process can vary depending on what it is, where it is, and how sensitive it is. But yes; it can be a pain and rather depressing at times. That’s why there’s such a focus on keeping classified data off unclassified machines, PERIOD.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Its necessary for them to do...

The US government has no notion of “its already out there”: If a document is classified Top Secret, having it discovered on an unclassified computer is bad, VERY BAD. The easiest cleanup procedure usually is “wipe the whole computer”.

Which is a knee jerk reaction that misses the real problem, how did it get off of a classified computer. It presence on an unclassified computer would indicate at least on more copy on removable media, and that is the one to worry about.

Paul L (profile) says:

Re: Re: Its necessary for them to do...

Have you read anything in the news that says it’s NOT something they are worried about? There are certainly more than 1 or 2 people working for DoD that deal with these types of concerns and issues; and it’s not necessary to have 100% of your staff focused on a SINGLE problem when you can have teams of people each working on different issues and tasks.

Guardian says:

2006 DRM leak to pirates

was done because the person wiped out a hard drive and thought all the data was gone then tossed the hard drive which was recovered and 7GB of DRM development was given to pirates…

the fact that oracle and sun were using a shoe company as a front for all this work for 30 companies never dawned on anyone….they are all evil people every fucking last american company….

sniperdoc (profile) says:

Incompetence and ignorance

Actually, what this actually shows is the level of understanding of the top brass that decided to do a move like this to begin with.

Probably some top ranking General, with a very limited understanding of (social)media and the internet as a whole had a wild hair up his butt.

There is no such thing as a media blackout anymore, not unless they take the entire internet offline and ISP’s start blocking sites.

It’s not really anything new that the top brass is doing. Incompetence or self-perpetuated ignorance like this is usually only an act of “show of force or power” that serves absolutely no one, except the brass’ (false) sense of security.

Someone says:

It's not just DoD

Here at a DoE research lab the Guardian website has been blocked ever since the leaks started, when we were sent a memo which said:

SUBJECT: Protecting classified information

Protect yourself, your work and the laboratory: do not access potentially sensitive information

While the recent disclosure by news sources of alleged, purported classified documents may pique your interest, employees should not use laboratory computers to access those documents at any of the locations where they may be stored online. This also applies to laboratory computers being used at home or off-site.

A number of statutes, regulations and executive orders govern our responsibilities for the protection and control of classified information. The laboratory?s prime contract requires that we protect classified information whether or not it is part of official activities. The release of classified information from ? or downloaded to ? a laboratory-owned unclassified system would be a serious security incident and could result in prosecution and confiscation of your computer in its entirety without the possibility of return or future access.

The subject of recent and varied news reports will spark many arguments in the coming weeks over the public?s right to know verses national security interests. However, one thing is not open to debate: Employees should not put themselves or the laboratory in danger of legal action by using laboratory computers for unauthorized access to potentially classified information online.

I agree that this seems stupid, but it sort-of explains the legal-think behind the policy.

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