The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2014 - page 18

Protecting the Realm:
The Past Must Be Prologue
ecent events, from the convic-
tion of Bradley Manning for
his role inWikiLeaks, credible
allegations that the U.S. has
been spying on top European lead-
ers, and Edward Snowden’s revelations
regarding the National Security Agency’s
PRISMprogram, to the high-level focus on
cybersecurity at last summer’s U.S.-China
summit, all call tomind a series of similar
uncertainties America faced nearly 240
years ago.
As was true back in 1775, when Benja-
min Franklin led a fledgling Committee of
Secret Correspondence, today’s Foreign
Service still requires secrecy to function
effectively. Transparency is important, but
the key to protecting U.S. national interests
is information security.
Secretary of State John Kerry has rightly
acknowledged that while U.S. intelligence
efforts have preventedmany calamities,
in some cases those information-gath-
ering efforts have reached too far. As our
national leadership tackles this important
issue, those of us in the Foreign Service are,
as always, bound by our own institutional
responsibility to protect national security
While the Bureau of Information
Resource Management’s Communica-
tions Security and Information Assurance
Timothy Lawson, a retired Senior Foreign Service officer, served in Amman, Moscow (twice),
Beirut, Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Islamabad, Seoul and Washington between 1981 and
2007. Before joining the Foreign Service, he served in the Navy and was employed by the Army
and Air Force supporting communications, intelligence and electronic warfare operations.
Lawson now resides in Thailand, where he continues to follow U.S. national security issues.
programs are security mainstays, today’s
challenges are increasingly complex. For
all the undisputed benefits new technol-
ogy brings, real vulnerabilities remain.
These weaknesses jeopardize our foreign
policy, development initiatives, consular
services and social media outreach, dam-
aging U.S. strategic interests. They can also
endanger lives.
From Security to
Efficiency to Peril
Thirty years later, I still recall reporting
for duty at my second post, Moscow, as
a junior FS-8 Support Communications
Officer in 1983. The first thing I gazed upon
after entering the secure, highly restricted
area of the Communications Programs
Unit was a row of eight five-drawer Mosler
safes, each with its own three-way combi-
nation lock that rigorously testedmemori-
zation skills.
As at other posts behind the Iron
Curtain, Moscow’s CPU safeguarded the
embassy’s crown jewels: classified files
containing top-secret telegrams, special
captionedmaterials, cryptographic materi-
als, keys and ciphers. Centralized files were
cumbersome, but provided a high level of
information security.
Notorious U.S. Navy spy JohnWalker,
convicted in 1985 for passing more than
a million secrets to the Soviets, was able
to do incalculable damage to national
security because the Navy’s communica-
tions security systemused a single key
to encrypt communications between
hundreds of ships. Moreover, each Navy
command and unit maintained individual
files, making the potential for even further
information loss substantial.
In contrast, the State Department’s
“point-to-point” encryption practice,
which employed unique encryption links
between each post andWashington,
coupled with centralized filing systems
like the one inMoscow, limited potential
damage from a security compromise. Yes,
information was tightly locked up and dif-
ficult to access—but that was the tradeoff
for virtual immunity to accidental loss or
intentional release.
As new technology evolutionmorphed,
however, security soon took a back seat
to speed and accessibility. Centralized
files gave way to computers, floppy disks,
databases and local area networks.
The burden of traditional “communi-
cations and records” was replaced with
new productivity. But those advances
altered our culture for handling classified
information, once the bedrock of Foreign
Service tradecraft. The convenience of new
technology trumped imprinted classifica-
tion stamps, security markings and sealed
Fast forward to today when information
access has never been simpler. Given the
priority assigned to information sharing
since 9/11, and the spread of cellphones,
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