Exclusive: Years After Manning Leaks, State Department Cable System Lacks Basic Security

Justine Sharrock | BuzzFeed | October 2, 2013

For four years, highly sensitive communications, including cables, have been left vulnerable by bureaucratic intransigence, incompetent contractors, and a series of waivers, people who worked on the project say. “There is this attitude that security didn’t even come into the picture.”

The State Department’s communications system is operating without basic technical security measures in place, despite warnings about its vulnerabilities, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed and sources who have worked on the project. The system, known as SMART (the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset), is used to share internal State Department documents, including sensitive diplomatic cables — the type of document released to WikiLeaks in 2010, in the biggest data breach in the history of the United States government.

The sources, who spoke to BuzzFeed on condition of anonymity, say the failures have left thousands of cables and messages, including highly sensitive and classified ones, vulnerable to espionage or leaks for the last four years. The State Department approved the project (and hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to contractors) in 2009 despite known flaws, and proceeded even after the 2010 Chelsea Manning leaks, despite two inspector general reports condemning the project’s lack of security, and even after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to stop another leak.