Bad Times for the Good Guys on the National Security Front
This story is filled with references to anonymous sources, so I am trying my hardest to take it with a grain of salt. But it still reads as being plausible, which is why it still worries me:
UK intelligence agents have been moved because Russia and China have access to classified information which reveals how they operate, a senior government source has told the BBC.
According to the Sunday Times, Moscow and Beijing have deciphered documents stolen by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The government source told the BBC the countries “have information” that led to agents being moved but added there was “no evidence” any had been harmed.
I certainly hope that no one has been harmed, but even if harm has not been visited on individual persons, harm may yet have been done:
The government source said the information obtained by Russia and China meant that “knowledge of how we operate” had stopped the UK getting “vital information”.
BBC political correspondent Chris Mason said the problem for UK authorities was not only the direct consequence that agents had been moved, but also the opportunity cost of those agents no longer being in locations where they were doing useful work.
The Chinese breach of the Office of Personnel Management network was wider than first acknowledged, and officials said Friday that a database holding sensitive security clearance information on millions of federal employees and contractors also was compromised.
In an announcement, OPM said that investigators concluded this week with “a high degree of confidence” that the agency’s systems containing information related to the background investigations of “current, former and prospective” federal employees, and others for whom a background check was conducted, were breached.
[. . .]
The announcement of the hack of the security-clearance database comes a week after OPM disclosed that another personnel system had been compromised. The discovery of the first breach led investigators to find the second — all part of one campaign by the Chinese, U.S. officials say, evidently to obtain information valuable to counterespionage.
“This is potentially devastating from a counterintelligence point of view,” said Joel Brenner, a former top counterintelligence official for the U.S. government, speaking about the latest revelation. “These forums contain decades of personal information about people with clearances . . . which makes them easier to recruit for foreign espionage on behalf of a foreign country.”
[. . .]
Employees of intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, generally do not have the records of their clearance checks held by OPM, although some do, officials said.
“That’s the open question — whether it’s going to hit CIA folks,” the second official said. “It would be a huge deal. They could start unmasking identities.”
When a retired 51-year-old military man disclosed in a U.S. security clearance application that he had a 20-year affair with his former college roommate’s wife, it was supposed to remain a secret between him and the government.
The disclosure last week that hackers had penetrated a database containing such intimate and possibly damaging facts about millions of government and private employees has shaken Washington.
The hacking of the White House Office of Personnel Management (OPM) could provide a treasure trove for foreign spies.
The military man’s affair, divulged when he got a job with a defense contractor and applied to upgrade his clearance, is just one example of the extensive potential for disruption, embarrassment and even blackmail arising from the hacking.
If you are a Russian or Chinese intelligence official, or anyone else who wishes ill upon efforts to preserve and enhance American national security, congratulations. You must be very happy, and you must have little to no trouble sleeping at night. If you are an American intelligence official, or any other person who cares deeply about preserving and enhancing American national security, good luck in trying to get any sleep whatsoever.
Originally published at pejmanyousefzadeh.net on June 16, 2015.