The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will need to seriously re-examine its own security procedures after a major gaffe accidentally exposed classified anti-terror documents, according to a report from CNN.
The documents in question were an analysis of the operational response in a Homeland Security exercise simulating a bio-terror attack on the Super Bowl by adversaries deploying anthrax to the assembled multitudes in the stadium.
Marked “For Official Use Only” and “important for national security,” the documents were discovered in the seat back pocket on a commercial airliner by a CNN employee, along with other sensitive DHS material.
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According to CNN:
“Recipients of the draft “after-action” reports were told to keep them locked up after business hours and to shred them prior to discarding. They were admonished not to share their contents with anyone who lacked ‘an operational need-to-know’.”
The confidential documents took their unscheduled flight in the company of travel papers belonging to the government scientist in charge of the DHS program that executed the anthrax drills prior to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
The contents of the mislaid reports evaluated results of those drills which measured the ability of government officials in public health, law enforcement and emergency management to execute a coordinated response if a biological attack took place in Minneapolis on Super Bowl Sunday.
The DHS was fortunate that it was a CNN employee who found the documents, since the network held off on publishing the news of the security breach until after the Super Bowl at the request of government officials who were fearful that its disclosure before the game could heighten security risks.
A spokesperson for the DHS told CNN that the deficiencies in preparedness that the documents cite had all been rectified before the Super Bowl.
“This exercise was a resounding success and was not conducted in response to any specific, credible threat of a bioterrorism attack,” said the DHS spokesman, Tyler Q. Houlton.
Juliette Kayyem, a former DHS official, told CNN that the whole point of this type of exercise typically would be to identify areas that needed improvement and help authorities be better prepared if an attack were to occur.
“The biggest consequence of this mistake,” Kayyem said, “may have less to do with terrorists knowing our vulnerabilities and more to do with confidence in the Department of Homeland Security. In the end, confidence in the federal government at a time of crisis is what the American public deserves.”
Now that news of the abandoned secret document is public, the DHS says that it is conducting an “operational review.” While the name of the scientist who left their boarding pass with the documents has been disclosed, the “DHS does not comment on personnel matters or potential pending personnel action,” according to the agency, so no word of any consequences caused by the breach are currently available.