Center for Strategic Communication

Air Force One waits for U.S. President Barack Obama in the fog at London’s Stansted Airport, Friday, April 3, 2009. Photo: AP / Kirsty Wigglesworth

Pentagon-funded researchers have come up with a new plan for busting leakers: Spot them by how they search, and then entice the secret-spillers with decoy documents that will give them away.

Computer scientists call it it “Fog Computing” — a play on today’s cloud computing craze. And in a recent paper for Darpa, the Pentagon’s premiere research arm, researchers say they’ve built “a prototype for automatically generating and distributing believable misinformation … and then tracking access and attempted misuse of it. We call this ‘disinformation technology.’”

Two small problems: Some of the researchers’ techniques are barely distinguishable from spammers’ tricks. And they could wind up undermining trust among the nation’s secret-keepers, rather than restoring it.

The Fog Computing project is part of a broader assault on so-called “insider threats,” launched by Darpa in 2010 after the WikiLeaks imbroglio. Today, Washington is gripped by another frenzy over leaks — this time over disclosures about U.S. cyber sabotage and drone warfare programs. But the reactions to these leaks has been schizophrenic, to put it generously. The nation’s top spy says America’s intelligence agencies will be strapping suspected leakers to lie detectors — even though the polygraph machines are famously flawed. An investigation into who spilled secrets about the Stuxnet cyber weapon and the drone “kill list” has already ensnared hundreds of officials — even though the reporters who disclosed the info patrolled the halls of power with the White House’s blessing.

That leaves electronic tracking as the best means of shutting leakers down. And while you can be sure that counterintelligence and Justice Department officials are going through the e-mails and phone calls of suspected leakers, such methods have their limitations. Hence the interest in Fog Computing.