Deputy secretary of defense: 2 mistakes led to Snowden leaks
July 18th, 2013
02:37 PM ET

Deputy secretary of defense: 2 mistakes led to Snowden leaks

Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories and opinion pieces surrounding the Aspen Security Forum currently taking place in Aspen, Colorado. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event, which is taking place from July 17 to 20 in Aspen, Colorado.

A senior-level defense official said Thursday that keeping top-secret information on one shared server and giving an individual the ability to view and move that data were two mistakes that allowed NSA leaker Edward Snowden to disclose top-secret information.

Although Ashton Carter, the deputy secretary of defense, said he didn't want to directly comment on Snowden - "because that is a criminal investigation" - he spent a portion of a panel at the Aspen Security Forum laying out the "root causes of all of this."

"This is a failure to defend our own network," Carter said. "That failure originated from two practices that we need to reverse."

The first mistake: "In an effort for those in the intelligence community to be able to share information with one another, there was an enormous amount of information concentrated in one place. ... It creates too much information in one place."

The second: "You had an individual who was given very substantial authority to access that information and move that information. That ought not to be the case, either."

Carter also said that the damage Snowden caused to the United States is "very substantial" and is still being assessed.

"We are acting to reverse both of those things," Carter said. "It is quite clear that those are the two root causes of this."

To correct these mistakes, Carter said, the intelligence community needs to "compartmentalize more rigidly" and not give so much access to one person, on their own.

Asked about the time frame for countermeasures being put in place to stop more leaks, Carter bluntly said, "Now."

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, leaked classified NSA documents to the media, sparking worldwide controversy over U.S. surveillance programs.

Since leaking the information, Snowden has been a man without a country. He has received asylum offers from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, but remains stuck in Moscow's international airport because the United States has revoked his travel documents.

Earlier in the session at Aspen, moderated by the New York Times' David Sanger, Carter spoke about the Pentagon's focus on cybersecurity and cyberwarfare. He laid out three priorities - defending the Pentagon's networks, attacking enemy networks and defending the nation's networks - as areas that the Defense Department is concentrating on.

In that effort, Carter said, 40 new cyberteams are working at the Pentagon. In total, he said, that is 4,000 people.

As for the cost of this new effort, Carter said it is "not very expensive." It is a priority for the department and will be protected from "budget hassles" that are currently looming over the Pentagon, he added.

– CNN's Elise Labott and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Aspen Security Forum • Cybersecurity • Edward Snowden • NSA • Pentagon
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. NYC Fitness Event

    I agree I'm glad to see the holes are being plugged. I agree with what was said "You had an individual who was given very substantial authority to access that information and move that information. That ought not to be the case, either."

    February 3, 2014 at 9:42 pm | Reply
  2. Paul

    This has shown security has to be made tighter...

    January 17, 2014 at 8:17 am | Reply
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  6. chrisneetz

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    July 26, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  7. Roto

    A mess. There's no excuse for the leaks. They were highly damaging. People thinking the government shouldn't collect data from its citizens aren't living in the 21st century where terrorism has replaced warfare. The truth is often much more painful than the lie.

    July 21, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Reply
    • bmull

      Anyone willing to give up all their privacy to a massive government data mining project in exchange for being marginally protected from the relatively trivial terrorist threat is a fool.

      July 28, 2013 at 2:58 am | Reply
      • Mike the Massacred

        Exactly.

        August 1, 2013 at 7:12 am |
      • Xenomorph

        "marginally protected from the relatively trivial terrorist threat is a fool"

        Yeah, whatever junior.

        August 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  8. ungakhan

    "This is a failure to defend our own network," Carter said. "That failure originated from two practices that we need to reverse."

    Carter's department is chock full of practices that need to be reversed; this is hardly the most pressing one.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  9. john doe

    if you, the government werent conducting illegal activities there would be nothing to leak

    July 18, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Reply
    • Xenomorph

      Oh, that makes a lot of sense Dope! That is the most uninformed thought I have ever heard.

      August 2, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  10. northerstar

    It is no wonder that the Chinese, etc. have access to our military technology and our secrets. What is wrong with the people responsible for protecting our secrets? I know government employees are very good;but I hoped that our military was better prepared to protect our country & secrets.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm | Reply
  11. Tom

    So these folks are the ones who are telling us to trust them because they have the proper processes and safeguards to make sure our data is protected? Manning not so long ago and now Snowden. These folks are a bit too confident if they think they can 100% avoid this problem. Can make it difficult but not make it go away.

    July 18, 2013 at 9:00 pm | Reply
  12. sparks2000

    funny--instead of trying tio fix the problem,now this guy is working on not creating another leaker--so corrupt--these guys are not worthy to hold positions in the country of G Washington and B franklin--they are worse criminals than the King of Britain was in the 1700's--we traded one dictator for many

    July 18, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  13. SolarMoon

    The root causes and preventing them is a much bigger problem than articulated by Carter. Ultimately, people have to be trustworthy, if not no amount of security will prevent this from happening in the future.

    The real problem in this case was Snowden should never have been granted a security clearance and access to this information.

    July 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Reply

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