Rumsfeld orders .mil Web lockdown

'Our enemies access DoD Web sites on a regular basis'

SecurityFocus logo U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week directed the armed service to strip military Web sites of information that could benefit adversaries, citing a terrorist training manual and a year-long review of the Department of Defense's 700-gigabyte Web presence.

"An al Qaeda training manual recovered in Afghanistan states: 'Using public sources openly and without resorting to illegal means, it is possible to gather at least 80% of information about the enemy,'" Rumsfeld wrote in a memo electronically circulated throughout the armed services. "One must conclude our enemies access DoD Web sites on a regular basis."

The Pentagon has long enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the Web, beginning in 1998 when then-deputy defense secretary John Hamre issued a directive that greatly restricted the type of unclassified information defense sites can put online (classified data is not allowed on the Internet). Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Defense Department pulled or pared thousands of additional pages, and established still stricter policies on Web publication.

Despite the crackdown , information designated "For Official Use Only," or describing operational strategies, plans and standard procedures were found online in violation of policy over 1,500 times in the past year, according to the Rumsfeld memo, first reported by InsideDefense.com. "This continuing trend must be reversed," wrote Rumsfeld.

"Unpublished addresses (URLs) and unlinked Web pages do not provide security," Rumsfeld wrote.

But Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) says the memo goes too far in ordering defense webmasters to take down any information that could possibly be useful to an enemy.

"Almost any information could be useful to an adversary in some context," says Aftergood. "If that standard is followed, it would lead to a wholesale withdrawal of information from defense Web sites... This is a broad brush approach that's not the right way to go."

Aftergood is no stranger to Web self-censorship in the age of terrorism. In the days following September 11, FAS removed some government information from their own pages, including the floor plans for the "Site R" military communications complex buried deep under a mountain in rural Maryland, which reportedly serves as the seat of an emergency "shadow" government. He says he doesn't regret that decision, but that the Pentagon has already gone far beyond any practical security concerns in its cuts. "There has to be some consideration given to the importance of public access to information," Aftergood says.

Last month the Defense Department endured some ridicule when it was caught slowly removing information from the public Web site for its "Total Information Awareness" project, after the project fell under widespread criticism as a threat to privacy. TIA is aimed at some day mining vast quantities of credit, law enforcement, insurance, driving and medical records to spot indications of terrorist preparations in the average American's data trail.

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