A secret memo listing critical infrastructure facilities around the world was published by WikiLeaks on Sunday, prompting criticism that the publication could serve as a target-list for terrorists.
The cable, written in February 2009 and classified "Secret," lists more than a hundred facilities that the U.S. considers critical infrastructures or key resources. They include an Israeli weapons manufacturer in Haifa; undersea cables in China and elsewhere; hydroelectric plants; metal and chemical mines and manufacturers; pharmaceutical facilities and labs in Denmark and France where critical formulas are manufactured, such as vaccines for smallpox and influenza and insulin for foot and mouth disease and other ailments; and the Straits of Hormuz, a choke point through which much of the Middle East's crude oil passes.
The list is compiled annually as part of the Department of Homeland Security's National Infrastructure Protection Plan to track locations outside U.S. borders whose loss could "critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States," according to the cable. Key resources are defined as "publicly or privately controlled resources essential to the minimal operations of the economy and government."
Although the facilities listed are not secret - and the locations for most of them can be found through a simple Google search - British and U.S. authorities denounced WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange for releasing the list.
"There are strong and valid reasons information is classified, including critical infrastructure and key resources that are vital to the national and economic security of any country," Philip Crowley, US Assistant Secretary of State, told the Financial Times. "Julian Assange may be directing his efforts at the United States but he is placing the interests of many countries and regions at risk. This is irresponsible."
Steve Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, said that while it might interest potential attackers to know what facilities the U.S. deemed sensitive and critical, a motivated attacker is capable of selecting his own targets without government aid.
"My own opinion is that there's no shortage of potential targets that hostile actors might find interesting, and they don't need a State Department list to assist them," he told Threat Level, noting that the list, produced in a run-on format, makes it difficult to decipher.
"The good news is it's hard to read," he said. "Talk about security through obscurity, . . . this is one boring memo. You have to be really committed to get through this."
He noted, however, that what's not on the list could be deemed just as important to an attacker.
"By implication it also says that facilities not listed here may not be deemed as important by the government or may not have been recognized by the government as sensitive and may therefore be receiving less protection," he said.
Photo: CTBTO Preparatory Commission/flickr