State's Diplopedia could help it avoid a WikiLeaks breach

Secure system brings diplomats into the 21st century

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a damage control operation to world leaders after State Department diplomatic cables were published by the WikiLeaks website, the atmosphere was calm in the Office of eDiplomacy.

That’s because cables likes the ones leaked to WikiLeaks have been replaced by Diplopedia, a highly secure system by which ambassadors and their staffs can compare notes, pass tips and even offer candid observations on world leaders, Dayo Olopade, a political reporter, writes in The Daily Beast.

Olopade recently spoke with officials in the office of eDipolmacy about cybersecurity efforts in the wake of leak of the trove of classified and unclassified diplomatic cables that span 1966 to 2010.

A team of 60 people within eDiplomacy are working on ways to modernize the way American diplomats talk to each other confidentially.

Diplopedia is an online encyclopedia of foreign affairs information, according to the State Department. It is a wiki that can be edited with an Intranet Web browser that can be accessed by authorized State Department personnel. They can contribute their experience, knowledge and expertise in the form of articles, discussion or editing of material submitted by others.

The Office of eDiplomacy, Bureau of Information Resource Management, provides the underlying technology, MediaWiki, the basis for the popular Wikipedia on the Internet.

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No system is fool-proof, and it’s hard to stop an inside job—the working theory of how State’s cache of sensitive cables wound up in the newspaper, Olopade writes. However, the leaders of the eDiplomacy initiative are confident their project will make the department’s internal traffic far more secure.

"Our security gurus have spent a ton of time making sure that system is buttressed, and I don't know we've had many attacks. That is our firewall against the outside," Richard Boly, director of eDiplomacy, said in the article.

Bruce Burton, who has been with State since 1975, described cables as mid-20th century technology. The all-text, point to point cable systems that carried the WikiLeaks revelations represents only 10 percent of communications – and was retained because people are familiar with it, according to The Daily Beast article.

The end of the Cold War and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on The World Trade Center and the Pentagon forced the realization that the government had a real information management problem that needed to be fixed.

Today Diplopedia, which is accessible only from secure State Department servers, has nearly 13,000 articles created by 4,000 employees. It hosts unclassified pages titled “Assignment Iraq,” “Keeping Your Principal Informed,” Crisis Management” and “A Foreign Desk Officer Survival Guide,” Olopade writes.

Pages on another internal site, “Communities,” offer in-depth coverage of regions, embassies and topics of the kind transmitted over official cables.

On Monday Nov. 29 as news of WikiLeaks spread around the department, a page popped up on Diplopedia offering guidance on how to handle the fallout. The page, seeded by the eDiplomacy team, includes the unclassified situation reports and other resources, including outside Web links to WikiLeaks, Boly told The Daily Beast.

State is using social-media tools to broaden the reach of its diplomacy beyond government-to-government relations. As a result, using social media has an external focus through the Office of Public Diplomacy and an internal focus through the Office of eDiplomacy, according to State officials.

State uses multimedia tools, including YouTube, Facebook, blogs, Flickr and Twitter. For example, DipNote, State’s official blog, provides context and behind-the-scenes insights on the foreign policy headlines.

On the internal side, there is Diplopedia. State is looking for ways to take advantage of this wiki with the intelligence community’s Intellipedia, an internal online encyclopedia.

Other eDiplomacy social-media initiatives include the Virtual Presence Posts program, through which State is trying to broaden its engagement with cities, communities, regions and countries that don't have a U.S. embassy or consulate building. For example, most Virtual Presence Posts have a Web site, and diplomats in nearby embassies or consulates may use travel, public outreach programs, media events, or online webchats to create a virtual presence for local populations.

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Reader Comments

Tue, Dec 14, 2010 Jeffrey A. Williams

There is no technology that can absolutely stop such leaks if from the inside. There is means by which such leaks can be significantly discouraged which would include fear of prosecution and the death sentance in sevear cases as well as better education. SIPERNET has been around for a very long time in one form or another and wasl not originally inteded for the purposes it has in recent years been used for. Additionally allowing unrestricted ACCESS to PFC Manning was a bad mistake that perhaps could have been avoided, and perhaps not. None the less PFC Manning likely acted knowingly in violation of the espionage act as well as the National Securities Act. If so and proven in a proper court of law, he will be punnished accordingly. Assange on the other hand's envolvment may be questionable as to violating any law, but at a minimum he IMO exercised poor/bad judgment.

Wed, Dec 8, 2010

I have to agree with previous posters that 1) The subject of this article is very inaccurate. This article describes a State Departement info sharing tool and has nothing to do with Wikileaks.I expected to see something about how State will no longer be sharing info with DoD, i.e. standing up their own network and getting off SIPRNET. I guess it's good not to see that article...

Wed, Dec 8, 2010

I think I missed something in this article - how is this Wiki-based content management system "more secure" than the cables that were leaked? The only 'security' mentioned is it's "behind a firewall" - how does that prevent something like what happened with the Army private from happening on your system? I'm not saying this is not an improvement over the all-text cables and a potentially better way to communicate and organize, but it doesn't sound like it resolves any security issues.

Wed, Dec 8, 2010 Walter Washington DC

It is truly amazing what it takes to overcome government inertia some times. We have been using low ranking military personnel to sort through classified documents since they were all hard copy. This seems like a really useful application of technology, I hope it works for them. I think it would be useful for a lot of DoD applications as well.

Wed, Dec 8, 2010

And as each agency sets up their own comm links and collaboration sites, we return to the era when left hand and right hand not only were not talking, they weren't even aware that there were other USGov players operating in their theater of operations. Lateral information sharing is as importany and going uphill and downhill on the org chart.

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