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Pentagon data breach sees half a million Guantanamo emails leaked

Technical failures within the Pentagon’s IT infrastructure have led to a mass data leak of defence documents and over half a million emails regarding the cases of Guantanamo Bay detainees.

According to Commander Walter Ruiz, the lead defence counsel for the lawyer for Mustafa al Hawsawi - one of four men being tried over their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks - a “significant amount of defence work” was lost from a drive along with “over 500,000 emails containing attorney-client privileged communications”, reports Frontline.

US Department of Defense spokesperson Todd Breasseale later denied that prosecutors had seen confidential defence emails, telling the news site in an emailed statement, “I can tell you unequivocally that NO prosecutor and no member of the privilege review team saw the content of any privileged communications.” But Breasseale admitted that “a nearly catastrophic server ‘crash’…coupled with satellite latency issues” between US and Guantanamo-based computers caused “losses of indiscriminate data” across both the prosecution and defence teams.

The highly sensitive nature of the leaked information puts the spotlight firmly on the IT security systems deployed by US agencies, and industry experts believe networks in which a country’s very governance rely on must be shored up.

“This case proves the observation we make regularly with our clients that, without basic protections for our digital content, many of the fundamental processes in our society start to break down,” said David Gibson, Vice President of data protection firm Varonis.

“Imagine the outcry if this data loss had happened on a major city’s court IT system, rather than on a Pentagon system servicing Guantanamo Bay in Cuba – the loss of trust and confidence in our judicial process would be significant,” he said, advising IT managers to “use automation to uncover security holes, monitor activity, and control permissions. Only then can organisations, their clients, customers, and business partners trust that their data is not going to go missing or fall into the wrong hands.”

The Pentagon leak adds weight to warnings issued last week by security author Philip Lieberman, who believes complacency is dragging the US towards the brink of suffering a severe cyber attack on its national infrastructure.