Intelligence: Secrets That Are a Silly Software Command Away


December 15, 2009: The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently suffered a major intelligence disaster when they posted their Screening Management Standard Operating Procedure manual on their website. This is a classified document, containing details of procedures used to check people entering airports. The classified data was blacked out, but those who did this forgot (or were unaware) that these PDF files can be downloaded and anyone with minimal PDF creation skills can remove the "black out" image to reveal the text beneath.

The data revealed was not all that secret to foreign intelligence agencies, who could have deduced the procedures by simply having operatives observe TSA screeners at work. For example, holders of certain passports (from , Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen and Algeria) are subject to additional scrutiny. Then there is the list of people who are not screened at all (foreign VIPs and their families, or at least spouses and children under 12). It also confirmed that diplomatic pouches (cargo travelling under diplomatic immunity). Other nations have different exemptions or, often very few. But now, because of an ignorant or ignorant TSA employee, key secrets are secret no more.

This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened. In several similar incidents, WORD electronic documents were posted, with sensitive information "blacked out" or deleted by a word processing command that can be easily reversed.


Article Archive

Intelligence: Current 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close