Treatment of WikiLeaker Manning doesn't bode well for corporate IT
Paranoia could turn IT from an enabler to a witch hunter
The Gitmo Moment of President Obama's presidency may not end up being Guantanamo Bay itself -- or his decision to keep it open more than two years after taking office, despite a promise to close it within 12 months.
His real Gitmo Moment may be the solitary imprisonment of alleged WikiLeaker Bradley Manning, who is accused of having improperly downloaded and released hundreds of documents and videos from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and more than a quarter-million secret cables between State Department functionaries gossiping about the foreign dignitaries with whom they negotiated, but didn't respect.
There is a thin excuse for uber-super-max security for the prisoners at Guantanamo, who are accused of often horrific violence (but can't be brought to trial mostly for lack of evidence, which would normally indicate they're probably not guilty and should be released).
Even assuming Manning did everything the government charges him with, and did it with malice and treason in his heart, just keeping him away from a computer would effectively end his reign of terror.
There's no real reason to keep him in solitary confinement in the brig at the Marine base at Quantico, Va., let him out of his cage one hour out of 23, and take away his sandals and clothes at night to further reduce his opportunity to strangle himself in the dark.
Aggressive criticism of the treatment comes from some of the usual sources -- Watergate icon Daniel Ellsberg for example.
It also comes from surprising sources -- among them the father of a wounded Marine who is proud of his family's military service, but wrote a column for his local newspaper summarizing his and his wounded son's belief that the treatment of Manning a disgrace.
"[My son] still believes in the ideals he thought he was fighting for and so to think that the Marine Corps brig at Quantico violates those ideals by torturing a 23 year old Army private, said to stand barely 5’5″ tall is an affront to every warrior who ever put themselves in harms way believing in the US Constitution," he wrote.
The highest-profile critique came from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who had to resign after saying at an MIT seminar that Bradley's treatment was "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid."
Like most of the WikiLeaks scandals this one, especially because it involves incarceration rather than just firing someone, seems irrelevant to most corporate IT issues.
There are very specific laws, corporate policies on behavior and commonly accepted standards of ethical behavior designed to prevent the kind of revelations Manning is alleged to have made.
That doesn't mean they don't happen anyway, or that people can become so oversensitive to them that they react to every infraction as if they're dealing with al-Qaeda, rather than some admin who forwarded some gossip to a friend.
Regulations like HIPAA make everyone sensitive to private data and the potential for litigation for violating it.
Cases like Manning's and anything involving WikiLeaks turn up the heat on it, often to the point that there's not a practical way to prevent what amounts to a witch hunt when some executive gets ticked off when a personally important but relatively harmless bit of corporate data shows up in the press or on some industry forum.
It happens every day, and IT is often the mechanism used to track down and convict the perpetrator, even when the crime isn't worth the time to investigate or punishment meted out.
There are absolutely situations in which breaches of data that leave the company open to lawsuits, damage to its competitiveness and fines for inadequately securing regulated data.
Most don't rise to that level.
The emotions behind the wish to punish someone won't be.
My concern in cases like that are that "the perpetrator," evidence against whom may be thin, will be unduly punished, opening the company to more lawsuits, and that IT will be used as the instrument of that prosecution. That role would quickly become damaging its reputation, the self-image of the techies forced to do the witch hunting, and IT policies that turn IT into as much an Internal Affairs investigatory division as one dedicated to making the company as a whole run well, not just with more paranoia.