No seriously, hear me out. By now, everyone has heard about the WikiLeaks "dump" of thousands of secret and classified U.S. government cables. The latest escapade in this drama is the release of a list of worldwide sites that are critical to the security of the U.S. It's causing quite a stir, and it's not hard to see why: such a list provides what is essentially a hit list for any persons or organizations wishing to attack the United States. And what can the U.S. do about it? Nothing, really.
Based on these actions, a lot of people are withdrawing support from WikiLeaks. PayPal has closed its donation account. Amazon has booted the site off its servers. There are rumblings of DOS attacks on the site's servers. Swiss authorities have shut down founder Julian Assange's bank account. And there are (unrelated) warrants out for his arrest.
Not only are some pundits upset, but the government is rightfully upset as well. The Pentagon has threatened to strike back with capabilities it does not actually have. But America's inadequacy in cyber warfare is a topic for another day.
The Pentagon will not be able to stop these kind of leaks from happening. The Internet has made it trivially easy to publish secret government information, and there are plenty of people who are interested. Enter Apple, a company that has been dealing with this issue for quite some time. A quick Google search for "Mac rumor sites" yields, at the time of this writing, over 750,000 results. I myself spend plenty of time speculating on what the Big Fruit will be doing next. For a company that is obsessed with secrecy, this would seem to be a huge problem. Yet keynote after keynote, Tuesday after Tuesday, Apple manages to surprise the world with their newest creations (iPhone 4 leak aside).
How do they do it? One of the ways is through restrictive NDA's and harsh penalties for revealing secret information. A famous example is from back in 2000, when ATI stole Steve Jobs' thunder by letting information slip about Apple's new machines before Steve could. The result? Any mention of ATI's cards was removed from the keynote, as if they didn't exist in the new Macs. And the level of physical security at Infinite Loop is extreme.
The U.S. Government certainly can't start suing every blogger that publishes information about it, but it can take one page out of Apple's book: false leaks. Look no further than Apple's Asteroid project, which was never actually a real project, but rather a plausible (but fake) device meant only to reveal information about how things were being leaked from the company and gain legal leverage against the rumor sites that hounded it. Apple went as far as releasing photos, preliminary specifications, and references in GarageBand code to make the false leak convincing. While it may seem like overkill to some, it's just a necessary step for an organization that highly values its security. What's more important than security to the Pentagon?
Picture this: instead of immediately condemning the WikiLeaks cable, the Pentagon issues a press release stating "The United States Government issues many false versions of critically important internal documents and will not comment on the authenticity of this particular cable." What terrorist organization is going to expend all of its time and effort chasing after targets that are, in great likelihood, merely a red herring?
America should be more coy. This leak has caught the government with its pants completely down. And all it's done in response is asked Mommy to stop that bully Julian from spreading pictures of its junk online, when the damage has already been done. Raising doubt about the authenticity of the content itself is one of the only ways of stopping something that already exists on hundreds of mirror servers worldwide. In contrast, doing things like blocking federal workers from accessing WikiLeaks just seems, well, pathetic. And ignorant.
Yes, it would require some additional resources to pull off. There would need to be an internal method for determining which documents are real and which are plants. And there's definitely doubts about whether such a large government agency would have these capabilities. But leaks in a ship with such a vast number of rivets are inevitable. So if you can't stop the leaks, stop the real problem. Make the leaks harmless.