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Leak fears could stifle information exchange

Experts say challenge is to prevent intelligence hoarding

WASHINGTON – Dismayed by the massive war-documents leak, intelligence experts are raising alarms that post-Sept. 11 changes promoting information sharing have made it too easy to lose control of the nation’s secrets.

Some intelligence veterans say it’s time to rethink how widely classified material is shared at lower levels or, at the very least, to step up monitoring of the people who are given access.

“Frankly, we all knew this was going to happen,” said former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

The intelligence failures that led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were blamed on government agencies hoarding information instead of sharing it, missing crucial clues that could have headed off al-Qaida’s strikes. The changes that reduced this kind of information “stovepiping” have produced the opposite problem – amassing so much data that officials complain it’s hard to make sense of it and, as the WikiLeaks incident shows, keep it secret.

Both intelligence officials and outside experts suggested that agency chiefs may push to limit access to electronic “portals” that have provided growing data access to intelligence officers, diplomats and troops around the world. And others predicted tighter scrutiny by an administration that has already pushed aggressively to investigate and prosecute leakers.

On the other hand, some lawmakers on Capitol Hill worry that the leaking incident will give the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies an excuse to go back to old ways of holding back some information as “too sensitive” to be shared.

“The intelligence community has a long way to go in information sharing,” said Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “If these leaks lead to even more stovepipes,” as in limiting access to data to only certain analysts or agencies, “it would be yet another devastating result of this betrayal,” he said.

Suspicion for the WikiLeaks document dump centers on Spc. Bradley Manning, of Potomac, Md., a 22-year-old soldier who is being detained in Kuwait, charged with “mishandling and leaking classified data.”

Manning was blamed for leaking a classified helicopter cockpit video of a 2007 firefight in Baghdad.

So far, no U.S. official has directly linked Manning to the WikiLeaks documents.

One U.S. official who has examined some of the WikiLeaks documents said everything he’d seen could have been obtained by Manning by surfing a Defense Department intranet system known as the “SIPRNet,” or Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.

Intelligence analysts like Manning and even troops in the field can access military field reports from Iraq or Afghanistan State Department sites or even some intelligence sites.

Out on the battlefield, the WikiLeaks episode may cause a new reluctance to share information. That could make it harder for military headquarters to get an immediate assessment of what’s happening on the battlefield, some officials say.

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