There are leaks and there are leaks – how easy should it be to find a leaker?

The recent leaks of Top Secret and other documents have generated a massive debate in the US and other press outlets as to the potential damage caused by this classified material getting into the public domain and who could have leaked it and why.

Many of the comments are speculative and not looking at the actual classifications on the documents and what this mean. As these will point clear to a relatively small cohort of people who should have access to them.

The most highly classified document has the header and footer below:

So, what do these terms and abbreviations mean in reality?

Top Secret: – information that id compromised could cause Exceptionally Grave Damage to national security or international relations.

HCS-P – HUMINT Control System – Product – Contains information derived from sensitive Human Intelligence sources (spies)

SI-G – COMINT (Gamma) – This is communications intelligence derives from intercepting different communications and the Gamma is an extra compartment suggesting more sensitive collection means.

TK – Talent Keyhole – Satellite or U2 spy plane derived Signals Intelligence, Communications Intelligence Measurement and Signature Intelligence or Imagery Intelligence – this is another limited compartment restricting who can access the information. For example, if you are Top Secret cleared it doesn’t give you automatic right to TK material or SI-G material.

FGI – Foreign Government Information – it says what it means, information and intelligence has been obtained via foreign government, usually through bilateral or multilateral arrangements. This makes any leak extra sensitive as it is someone else’s intelligence, entrusted to you to look after.

RSEN – Risk Sensitive – again what it says on the tin – some of the information or intelligence is especially sensitive.

ORCON – Originator Controlled – this means that further release of the information can only be authorised by the originator.

NOFORN – Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals

FISA – Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act derived – data authorised for collection using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which can data held in US based servers but belonging to non-US personnel or entities.

Secret – one step below Top Secret – information that could cause serious damage to national security.

REL – means releasable and here FIN means to Finland, UKR means Ukraine, FVEY means the Five Eyes Community (UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and NATO means releasable to NATO countries and NATO HQs.

In the US it has been quoted that there are 1.25 million people with Top Secret Clearance but that doesn’t mean they have access to these documents. Documents at all classifications are released on a need-to-know basis only as well. So only smaller number with a need for Ukraine related information and not just Top-Secret Clearance but also authorised for TK, Gamma, HCS and FISA access – with each caveat the pool of who can get access gets smaller.

In addition, the documents shown online were printed. Where Top Secret and above documents can be printed again is very carefully controlled and what is missing are the copy numbers that should be on the documents. Top Secret Material is very carefully controlled, so printer records can be checked and those who authorised the printing questioned.

Finally, to have a camera and or phone capability in a location where Top Secret Documents are available, shows a huge laps in basic security. These locations can be identified by auditing the few locations where these documents could be.

The bottom line, any leaker will be caught, that is if it is wanted that they are caught.