A previously secret document from 2010 warned that classified diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks would likely result in "observable changes" in tactics and techniques used by foreign spies, which may make it easier for US Authorities to avoid.
The document, recently released and shared with theinformationsuperhighway through a request for freedom of information from the nonprofit National Security Archives, reveals a rare glimpse into US Cyber Command, the military's primary cyber warfare unit, which was feared that diplomatic communications cables were leaked between US embassies would expose and hamper its ongoing cyber operations.
Michael Martelle, a research associate with the National Security Archive's Cyber Vault project, said the subsequent publication of the cables by WikiLeaks gave opponents a "time of added benefit".
The document was released almost exactly a decade after U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning downloaded 750,000 classified cables and forwarded them to the leak publishing site WikiLeaks. Manning was then sentenced to 35 years in prison for what was then the largest leak of US-classified material in his history. Her judgment was converted in 2017 by then President Barack Obama.
Cyber Command wrote its findings in a December 2010 situation awareness report, just days after the New York Times and several other news agencies released the full cache of diplomatic cables, but with editorial teams to protect the sources. The heavily edited assessment warned that the military cyber unit expected foreign intelligence agencies active in cyber espionage against the United States to use the information published by WikiLeaks for their own benefit.
The leaked cables are believed to "clearly indicate" that US government agencies at this stage have "knowledge" of certain tactics and techniques used by foreign opponents, including "malware, tool sets, IP addresses, and domains that." used in intrusion activities. ”
It was further warned that the same opponents "are expected to change their current infrastructure and intrusion techniques" to escape US cyber defense.
Although the editors in the released document made it unclear what opponents Cyber Command was referring to, Martelle said that only one particular opponent – China – was mentioned in the entire cache of unedited documents that Wikileaks published a year later, much to the dismay of news agencies.
Just a month before the first cables were released, Google publicly accused Beijing of launching targeted cyber attacks on its network. Several other companies, including anti-virus maker Symantec and defense firm Northrop Grumman, were also affected by the attack in an offensive cyber campaign known as Operation Aurora.
Google then pulled out of China after the excitement.
Cyber Command believes that all departments of the Defense Department and US intelligence agencies remain "vigilant" against anomalies as fears that their opponents "use this new information" to "drive their cyber initiatives".
When reached, a spokesman for Cyber Command said nothing. Google didn't comment either. An email to WikiLeaks was not returned. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is currently in custody and is awaiting extradition to the United States to release the classified cables.