Agencies to dole out new hardware keys for secret networks


Move follows alleged leaks about cyberwarfare.

The Pentagon is helping civilian agencies block access to federal classified networks by anyone who does not have a new smart card, military officials announced Thursday night, in the wake of recent information leaks.

During a closed-door House committee hearing earlier in the day, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta briefed lawmakers on the action -- part of a new top-down agenda to prevent the exposure of government secrets.

Defense Department officials already had announced the ongoing distribution of the new tokens that military employees will need to enter the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, which handles the military’s classified data.

Thursday’s policy states, “department personnel are working with other federal departments and agencies to help them issue the same cyber identity credential to all employees who need to access any of the government's secret networks.”

Both political parties have expressed outrage over news reports, presumably informed by insiders, about U.S. involvement in a cyberassault on Iran, drone targeting and an airline bomb plot stopped by a covert agent.

Much of the other technology in Defense’s new plan already was in the works, including a threat-detection system, following a soldier’s alleged massive disclosure of sensitive information to the anti-secrets website WikiLeaks.

SIPRNET is the system that Pfc. Bradley Manning is alleged to have abused to funnel out documents he was not authorized to view. The new Defense token is separate from existing badges and smart card credentials -- and does not display personal information or photos, Pentagon officials have said.

Panetta’s strategy marks the first talk of extending this type of lockdown to non-Defense agencies. The State Department became part of the WikiLeaks saga when embarrassing diplomatic cables popped up on the rogue site.

According to Defense officials, Panetta reiterated to lawmakers guidance issued by his predecessor Robert Gates that the assistant secretary for public affairs is the "sole release authority for all DoD information to news media in Washington.”

Federal personnel, since 2004, have been required to carry smart cards to access government computers, but the expense of card readers has kept most agencies from activating them.

(Image via  mkabakov /