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Taking Freedom of the Press One Step Too Far

I hesitate to even post this but considering it has been in the San Francisco Chronicle and Drudge picked it up, it isn't exactly a secret.

From the Chronicle:

Web site exposes Air Force One defenses

Whenever the president travels, security is a prime consideration. Motorcade routes are kept secret, and premature release of information about a presidential trip aboard one of the twin Air Force One planes can result in the Secret Service canceling a visit.

Thus, the Air Force reacted with alarm last week after The Chronicle told the Secret Service that a government document containing specific information about the anti-missile defenses on Air Force One and detailed interior maps of the two planes -- including the location of Secret Service agents within the planes -- was posted on the Web site of an Air Force base.

The document also shows the location where a terrorist armed with a high-caliber sniper rifle could detonate the tanks that supply oxygen to Air Force One's medical facility.

As of Friday, the document was still posted online. The Secret Service refused to comment on the document's release.

Why on earth publish this?

The media loves to hide behind the "Public's right to know" and "The good of the people." What good is served by telling the world these documents are available?

Starting with minimal knowledge, really no more than what is in this article, I managed to find them in minutes.

The story does not say who the paper contacted or when about the file. Even if the paper has known about it for a year they should not have published this story. -- Or at least not given the amount of data they did. They all but gave the URL and urged people to get it!

I won't disclose how I did it but when I used the proper search string it was the 3rd hit.

I find it hard to believe the Chronicle did not realize they were jeopardizing Presidential security for years to come.

You know the old line about rights coming with responsibilities. I think the San Francisco Chronicle was totally irresponsible.


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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Taking Freedom of the Press One Step Too Far:

» Red State Rant linked with Irresponsible Journalism 101

» Elliott Back linked with Air Force Exposed

» Schneier on Security linked with Air Force One Security

Comments (22)

I'll give them this: from t... (Below threshold)

I'll give them this: from the article it appears they told the Secret Service before they published it, and they appear to have waited at least a week for the information to be taken down, before they did publish.

The jeopardy was originally committed by whoever posted that information -- and aggravated when it remained online despite the Chronicle's warning. Under the circumstances, since the more discreet effort didn't work, they were left with the blunt instrument of publication to get action.

And since you found the document even after the article was published, it sure doesn't sound as though the Air Force has gotten the hint even so.

Good Points. Still they cou... (Below threshold)
Paul:

Good Points. Still they could have given out a little less information about its whereabouts.

True.... (Below threshold)

True.

Then again it could be a ru... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Then again it could be a ruse. Give your would be attackers what they think is real information to keep them from getting the real information. The U.S. and Brits have used such tactics for decades. Yah, shoot right here to blow up the plan actually means shoot right here to miss everything.

Either of the above statem... (Below threshold)
virgo:

Either of the above statements could be right on or the story is being pushed by the usual bush haters that want him gone !

Did you notice that they in... (Below threshold)
arizona451:

Did you notice that they informed the Secret Service _before_ they wrote the story? Did you also notice that the document was posted on an _Air Force_ cite? Yes, lets all join in a hearty condemnation of the ... press?

The fact that the document was ever available, much less still available is hardly the fault of the press. What, you think terrorists don't know about Google? Somehow this document would never have gotten into the wrong hands if the press hadn't looked into it?

The press was reporting to the public that security is terrible. That's how things get done. People get pissed, call their Congressmen, Congress gets pissed. Things happen. It's called Democracy.

The main point is that the issue is much broader than just the one document. Yes, the problem of that one document might have been solved through back-channels ... though obviously it wasn't or it wouldn't still be up. This point to a broader failure of security; chances are that's not the lone incident. This suggest the Secret Service aren't sharp enough to even google Air Force One. If *that* isn't newsworthy, and in the public intereset, I don't know what is.

But, by all means, shoot the messenger.

The Secret Service must be ... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

The Secret Service must be always very vigilant covering a wide array of threats. And it must be a difficult call to decide who's nuts from those, that can be taken more seriously?

To echo a point raised upth... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

To echo a point raised upthread:

There were two ways this story could have played out:

Until last week, information about Air Force One was available online, but when alerted by the Chronicle, Air Force officials said, 'Oh, crap!' and removed the inormation from the Internet.

Or ... it could involve officials who left sensitive information on the Web and were to thick to remove it when confronted.

--|PW|--

Thanks arizona451, my point... (Below threshold)
Clint:

Thanks arizona451, my point exactly.

>Did you notice that they i... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Did you notice that they informed the Secret Service _before_ they wrote the story?

Yes. Did you read my post? I addressed this.

>Did you also notice that the document was posted on an _Air Force_ cite?

Yes. Did you read my post? I addressed this.

>Yes, lets all join in a hearty condemnation of the ... press?

Yes. If the a member of the press found out there was a flaw in the Presidnet's limo that would leave him vulnarable to an attack, should they publish it? If the media knew where U.S. troops were doing to be deployed in Iraq should they publish it.

The answer is of course no.

>This suggest the Secret Service aren't sharp enough to even google Air Force One.

No it doesn't. That's hyperboyle. It is not as simple as googleing Air Force One. That's part of the point. They easily could have written the story and not given enough info to find the file easily. I noticed you ignroed that point.

PW... The fact the federal ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

PW... The fact the federal goverment is slow to react to something does not change the responsibility of the media.

If you watched Katrina on CNN you know the Feds don't move too quick many times. That point doesen't absolve Nagin for his letting the busses go unused.

Paul, Stunning th... (Below threshold)
arizona451:

Paul,

Stunning that you noticed those things, and yet still decided to make a post critical of the press instead of the incompetents they were exposing. Truly, stunning.

Here we have a national security nightmare perpetrated through sheer buffoonery, and you'd prefer the public not know about it.

So, Paul, you've found this... (Below threshold)
Clint:

So, Paul, you've found this document yourself and you've read the article in question. You say that the media did not wrongly write the story overall, but should not have provided enough info about the document to make it easy to find.

How about you provide your version of the story, with the document location sufficiently obfuscated? We'll see if you can convey the information in a meaningful fashion without providing us the info necessary to find the document. I doubt that you can.

> Stunning that you noticed... (Below threshold)
Paul:

> Stunning that you noticed those things, and yet still decided to make a post critical of the press instead of the incompetents they were exposing. Truly, stunning.


That the document should not have been on the web is self-evident. But that was (I'm assuming) a mistake. What the paper did was premeditated. If you and I work in the same building and I bump into you as we both round a corner, that is a mistake. If I punch you in the nose it is a different thing.

Secrutiy flaws abound in this world. But publishing it for the whole world to see was jsut wrong. I'm sorry you can;t look past your own prejiduce to admit that.

>Here we have a national security nightmare perpetrated through sheer buffoonery, and you'd prefer the public not know about it.

In a word YES. I don't want the public to know the location of the document. You know... It is possible to write about the fact the document exists without disclsing the location. Is that concept too hard for you to grasp?

==========

>So, Paul, you've found this document yourself and you've read the article in question. You say that the media did not wrongly write the story overall, but should not have provided enough info about the document to make it easy to find.

I had to read that twice cuz it was worded oddly but, Correct.

>How about you provide your version of the story, with the document location sufficiently obfuscated? We'll see if you can convey the information in a meaningful fashion without providing us the info necessary to find the document. I doubt that you can.

Is this a high-school writing class? A 9th grader could do that. I've been writing on Wizbang for about 2 years now. Go read my work. I think I'd be up to the challenge. If it is beyond your abilty, then I can't help ya.

But I will give you this. You did read my comment, think about it and addressed my point. That is about 10x more than most people.

(from this point on in the ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

(from this point on in the thread, spelling and typos are optional ;-)

Clint, since you did actualyl give your reply some thought, I have a mental challenge for you.

Let's assume for a second that writing the story was impossible without tipping people to the location. -- It isn't, but let's say you are right, Shakespear himself couldn;t do it.

And let's pretend that you've made 100 phone calls and nobody will remove it. So that option I've magically taken off the table.

You're the reporter, what do you do?

If you belive the document is a security threat, do you run the story or sit on it?

If you run the story you publicise a security flaw. IF you run the stroy you highlight incompitence in a Federal agency. (and we've seen how much that makes a difference in FEMA)

In short, do you knowingly and willfully comprimise Presidential secuirty in the hopes that the Secret Service (or whoever) does a better job?

Is the known harm less bad than the potential gain is good?

There's no wrong answers but some are more right than others.

The question I have is why ... (Below threshold)
mantis:

The question I have is why did the Air Force base in question post this info on their website in the first place? I haven't spent any time looking for it, so I don't know the context, but what could the justification possibly be?

mantis I really didn't read... (Below threshold)
Paul:

mantis I really didn't read it, I mostly just confirmed I had the same file.

And to the extent I did skim it, I wouldn't talk too much about it anyway. But having said that, it was a maintance document. The kind of thing that it is important to get to the folks doing the A&P work but I'm not sure this is the best method.

I "get" why it was up there. But I don't think the folks trying to make sure the data was accessable gave it too much thought.

It's an age old debate in computer science. Access vs security.

Maybe that's why I don't have the outrage it was up there... I've seen thousands of dumb thigns like that in my life. That does not excuse the SFC's behavior. IMO

In WW2 the U.S. knew from i... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

In WW2 the U.S. knew from intercepted radio traffic that Japan was getting ready to invade some U.S. held island, but we didn't know if the codeword being used was for Midway or some other island. To find out, the U.S. sent a message in the clear that Midway's desalination plant had broken down, which on a small island is a strategic piece of information. Sure enough the Japanese repeated the information using the codeword in question, which reveled their plans to invade Midway.

Now I can just see the headlines had some newspaper intercepted the message from Midway about it's broken desalination plant. How the lax security was jeopardizing the lives of our solders and sailors. Fast forward to 2006 where the internet has replaced radio communications. Why do you think the web page and document wasn't taken down immediately when the paper notified authorities. It's a ruse. They want terrorists to find this information. Perhaps to trace terrorist communication channels or just as disinformation to help hide the real truth.

Paul, I really wanted to po... (Below threshold)
Clint:

Paul, I really wanted to point out that the reporter who wrote the article, realizing that the info had gotten out there already, probably recognized that a reasonably intelligent person could find the document without the information in their article. Any person previously unable to find that document, given an internet connection and unlimited searching time, would not likely have the intelligence or resources to do anything with the information. So, discussing its presence in a fashion that does not make it more readily available to anyone unable to find it previously does not reduce security.

We can't develop security procedures that assume incompetence on the part of those from whom we wish to secure ourselves. It doesn't make any more sense than telling me I can't take a nail file on an airplane for safety reasons, but I can have all the stainless steel ball-point pens I want. Anyone who would want to hijack a plane and could do so with a nail file would have no problem using a pen, plastic knife, or a number of other easily available items instead.

The story could probably have contained less identifying information about the document in question, but would it have made a difference?

Either of the above stateme... (Below threshold)
darleenisagopshill:

Either of the above statements could be right on or the story is being pushed by the usual bush haters that want him gone !
Posted by: virgo at April 10, 2006 10:53 AM

Virgo:

Hahahaha! The "bush-haters" really don't care about George Bush's security detail - that's how insignificant your hero, Bushie McFlightsuit, has become.

Remember, you and the other 25 GOP ass kissers on this site are the only one's who approve of his performance anymore. Hahahahahaha

I recommend reading the Sch... (Below threshold)

I recommend reading the Schneier trackback. This is a non-story--there's no significant security risk from this information being public. The oxygen tank example is pretty silly, considering that the plane has fuel tanks which are a better target (and see link for a floor plan).

Air force aircraft fuel tan... (Below threshold)
ted:

Air force aircraft fuel tanks are not as vulnerable to attack from a rifle shot as one might think. In very many cases, and one would suspect for AF-1, the tanks are filled with a special open cell foam that reduces the hydrodynamic ram that is an essential element to cause a detonation of fuel within an aircraft's fuel bays from a rifle shot.




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