BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Pentagon is considering controls like those credit card firms use to detect anomalous behaviour to prevent leaks of sensitive information like the one which led to the WikiLeaks data dump on the Iraq war, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.
Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said the leak of nearly 400,000 U.S. classified field reports on the war has presented the U.S. military with a dilemma — how to better protect information without denying soldiers the real-time battlefield intelligence they need to win wars.
“Rather than preventing people from having access to the data, could we do things like credit card companies do, which is to look for anomalous behaviour,” Lynn told reporters during a brief visit to Iraq.
“If someone is doing something that doesn’t seem appropriate for where they are, downloading 100,000 documents when they are out in some obscure corner of the country, why are they doing that? You go out and ask them.”
Lynn said monitoring access to and the use of battlefield reports and other classified documents seemed like common sense, but added: “I don’t think we’re doing enough of it frankly”.
WikiLeaks said the documents it released last week detailed the deaths of 15,000 more Iraqi civilians than the U.S. military had reported. It said they also revealed widespread cases of torture and prisoner abuse by Iraqi security forces that U.S. commanders knew about but did not investigate.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Tuesday for a U.S. probe, saying the files indicated U.S. authorities knew detainees were being tortured, but continued to transfer thousands to Iraqi custody.
“The U.S. and Iraqi authorities should take necessary measures to investigate all allegations made in these reports and to bring to justice those responsible for unlawful killings, summary executions, torture and other serious human rights abuses,” Navi Pillay said in a statement.
The U.S. military has denied the allegations and criticised the release of the documents, saying they compromised the safety of informants and also potentially exposed U.S. military tactics and procedures that could be exploited by enemies.
Pentagon officials have been trying to figure out ways to tighten security since more than 70,000 secret U.S. files on the Afghan war were leaked in July.
A special task force has made recommendations to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Pentagon spokesman said on Tuesday, without offering details. Some battlefield commanders have already moved to tighten security on their own.
Lynn said it was important not to halt the flow of intelligence to soldiers in the field. A main complaint of commanders in the 1991 Gulf War was the lack of useful, up-to-date information, he said.
“We don’t want to change that. That’s an important element in the successes we’ve had,” he said.
President Barack Obama, who opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq launched by his predecessor George W. Bush, ended the U.S. combat mission in Iraq in August. The last 48,000 U.S. troops must withdraw from Iraq by end-2011.
Iraqi officials have vowed to probe any allegations of prisoner abuse revealed in the documents, which could embarrass the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as he tries to win support for a second term.
Denmark said on Tuesday that it also planned to investigate allegations that Danish soldiers in Iraq turned over to Iraqi police more prisoners than previously disclosed despite warnings of torture.
“It is something that I and the government take very seriously,” Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen told a news conference.
The U.S. probe into the source of the leak has focused on Bradley Manning, a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning is under arrest, charged with leaking a classified video showing a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Noah Barkin