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'NATO RESTRICTED': The lowest possible classification

Anonymous/LulzSec will have to do better than this

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Comment So the hacktivist collective Anonymous, parts of which have recently tangled with News International title The Sun and may have looted an explosive trove of emails from Rupert Murdoch's media empire, also say they have a big stash of classified material stolen from NATO. As evidence they have released two documents marked "NATO RESTRICTED".

To someone unfamiliar with the nature of NATO and the common military security document-classification system used by its member nations, that sounds impressive. In fact, it means the documents are insignificant: scarcely any different in practice from ones marked "UNCLAS" for unclassified.

Firstly, it's important to understand that NATO, far from being some kind of remorseless international military force in its own right – the view seen from certain compounds in Montana and perhaps elsewhere – is nothing more than an alliance. It contains a large number of nations, many of whose militaries are something of a joke and many of which have no great love for each other.

If you release any information all across NATO, as you are doing by putting a "NATO" header on it, you can be almost certain that some officer or official somewhere across the alliance will leak it if it is of interest. Thus, when there is a secret to be kept, it will not be marked "NATO": rather one will see such markings as UK EYES ONLY (to be seen only by Brits, further subdivided into ALPHA and BRAVO), NOFORN (the US version, meaning "no foreigners") or UK/US/AUS/CAN/NZ EYES ONLY (reflecting the post-War era Anglophone partnership which led to the Echelon listening programme among other things).

Then, RESTRICTED is the lowest of the five grades of information. The scale runs on up through CONFIDENTIAL to SECRET and then TOP SECRET. Really hot stuff is usually compartmentalised under a special codeword to boot, restricting access only to those who need it as opposed to those cleared to see it. (Sometimes NATO information accompanied by such a codeword may actually be sensitive.)

RESTRICTED information is so unimportant that hard copies don't even have to be shredded on disposal. Add a NATO prefix and you have something completely insignificant.

Perhaps Anonymous has stuff hotter than this: perhaps they have actually managed to acquire some significant information from NATO (though that would be unusual as NATO on the whole doesn't get given anything very secret). But there's no sign of it so far. ®

Lewis Page formerly held a Developed Vetting (Top Secret) clearance during previous employment as Special Intelligence and Crypto custodian - among many other nause admin jobs held at the same time - in the Royal Navy.

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