Com­plaint opens win­dow into se­cret com­puter sys­tems

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY DEB RIECHMANN

The whistle­blower com­plaint at the heart of Con­gress’ im­peach­ment in­quiry opened a win­dow Thurs­day into govern­ment com­puter sys­tems that White House and other govern­ment em­ploy­ees use to share and man­age clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion on a dayto-day ba­sis.

The process is com­pli­cated. There are un­clas­si­fied and clas­si­fied sys­tems that are not in­ter­con­nected. Then there is still an­other where very sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion is stored – one that only a hand­ful of of­fi­cials can ac­cess.

Memos and doc­u­ments cre­ated to re­count and tran­scribe pres­i­den­tial calls with for­eign lead­ers typ­i­cally are clas­si­fied as “se­cret,” one of the low­est lev­els of clas­si­fied ma­te­rial. That makes sense be­cause pres­i­dents aren’t usu­ally in the habit of shar­ing “top se­cret” U.S. in­for­ma­tion with lead­ers of other na­tions.

This is ex­actly what hap­pened with the in­for­ma­tion about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy. The mem­o­ran­dum was clas­si­fied as “se­cret,” and it was en­tered into a com­put­er­ized sys­tem that stores other “se­cret” and “top se­cret” in­for­ma­tion.

But the whistle­blower al­leges that sev­eral White House of­fi­cials be­came so con­cerned about the con­tent of the call that they in­ter­vened to “lock down” all records of it. Espe­cially, the whistle­blower wrote, the word-for-word tran­script of the call that was pro­duced – as is cus­tom­ary – by the White House Sit­u­a­tion Room.

“White House of­fi­cials told me that they were ‘di­rected' by White House lawyers to re­move the elec­tronic tran­script from the com­puter sys­tem in which such tran­scripts are typ­i­cally stored for co­or­di­na­tion, fi­nal­iza­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion to Cabi­netlevel of­fi­cials,” the whistle­blower said in the com­plaint.

The whistle­blower says the tran­script was loaded into the sys­tem re­served for the most sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion, de­scrib­ing that as “an abuse of this elec­tronic sys­tem be­cause the call did not con­tain any­thing re­motely sen­si­tive from a na­tional se­cu­rity per­spec­tive.”

Nate Jones, who served as di­rec­tor of coun­tert­er­ror­ism at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, said the highly sen­si­tive sys­tem has se­vere lim­i­ta­tions on ac­cess.

“It is a very ex­clu­sive sys­tem,” said Jones, who founded Culper Part­ners, a con­sult­ing firm. He said the trans­fer of the tran­script “didn’t hap­pen by ac­ci­dent. Some­body had to do it.”

Steven After­good, who di­rects the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists’ Project on Govern­ment Se­crecy, said the con­cern is that plac­ing the Ze­len­skiy call records on the more restricted server was an ir­reg­u­lar prac­tice that could be a pre­lude to record de­struc­tion.

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