Sen. John McCain demanded today that top brass be disciplined for the massive security breach of classified documents that are now spilling out of the Wikileaks website, but former Washington officials said that is unlikely that anyone will be held accountable beyond the lowly private who is now in jail.
"Let's go back to the principle of need-to-know. Why would a private first class have access to all of this information? Somebody is responsible for that and it isn't just the private first class. They should be held accountable for a change," McCain, R- Ariz, told ABC News today.
Wikileaks' latest release Tuesday will no doubt continue to strain already sensitive relationships and add pressure on the military to hold someone accountable.
For the third day in a row Wikileaks released a raft of secret diplomatic cables, many of them focusing on tenuous relationship with Pakistan, an essential, but often frustrating ally in the U.S. war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In one cable, former U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson expressed Washington's fears that Pakistan was not doing enough to secure its nuclear arsenal and keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
The cables shed light on the relationship between Pakistan's democratically elected president and its powerful army chief. According to diplomats, both men believed that Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani could depose President Asif Zardari if he chose to. Zardari even admitted to Vice President Joe Biden, "Kayani will take me out."
One cable back to Washington also voiced the grim conclusion that "no amount of money" will stop the Pakistani army's support of the Taliban that the U.S. is battling across the border in Afghanistan.
Since the first tranche of cables was released Sunday federal agencies have launched investigations, promised improved regulations, and vowed to prosecute Army Private Bradley Manning and Wikileaks' director Julian Assange.
Manning has been held in a Quantico, Va., brig awaiting court martial since July, but no senior officials or military officers have taken responsibility for the historic security breach and none have been threatened with losing their jobs.
"We probably are not going to see heads roll," said Gen. Jack Keane, a retired four star general and former Acting Army Chief of Staff. "The supervisors in this case will likely get a pass because this is a major deception."
The military says it will not comment on who, if anyone else might be held responsible until it completes an ongoing investigation.
In his first comments about the leak, Defense Secretary said efforts to share information after 9/11 had gone too far.
"That aperture went too wide," he told reporters. There's no reason for a young officer at a forward operating post in Afghanistan to get cables having to do with the START negotiations. And so we've taken a number of mitigating steps in the department. "
Manning is alleged to have downloaded vast numbers of secret diplomatic cables and military documents while working as an intelligence analyst, committing the greatest security breach in U.S. history using little more than a memory stick and a Lady Gaga CD.
Wikileaks Sources: Is Anyone Monitoring the Monitors?
"No one suspected a thing," Manning told a confidante afterward, according to a log of a computer chat published by Wired.com. "I didn't even have to hide anything."
"Weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counterintelligence, inattentive signal analysis," Manning wrote hacker Adrian Lamo explaining about how he was able stole the documents, according to Wired. "A perfect storm."
Wikileaks has pledged to release more than 250,000 documents, most, if not all of which, are believed to have been obtained by Manning. Already the site has published classified military records pertaining to the death toll in Iraq, and secret diplomatic cables about relations with foreign governments.
Keane said the large number of people accessing a huge quantity of data makes it nearly impossible for supervisors to monitor every key stroke.
"It's ambiguous at best, how the chain of command prevents this," he said.
"The Internet has decentralized the chain of command. An analyst doesn't need his supervisor's permission to access a computer. If you walked into [Afghan campaign commander Gen. David] Petraeus' operations center, you see hundreds of guys sitting at PCs. Nobody is sitting on top of them, looking over their shoulder," Keane said.
Beyond the logistics of monitoring, Keane said a supervisor should not be held responsible if a subordinate goes unexpectedly rogue. For instance, he said, a commander would not be held responsible if without warning a private threw a grenade into a tent full of soldiers.
However, he said, if Manning displayed warning signs and if the deception went on for an extended period of time, a supervisor might be held responsible.
"The military might decide not to fire supervisors and focus on the bigger question of what can we do to reduce the number of people with access to this information," said Torie Clarke, an ABC News consultant and former Department of Defense spokeswoman.
Former DOD officials said the military is still learning how to monitor its vast amounts of digital information, accessible to hundreds of thousands of service members and civilians.
Pentagon Promises Tighter Security To Prevent Another WikiLeak
The Pentagon still occasionally does physical spot checks, asking employees to open bags and briefcases to ensure encoded laptops and classified documents are not being taken out of the building, but that does little to staunch the flow of digital information.
Clarke echoed McCain, saying the number of people with access to intelligence has become dangerously large.
"Over the years we have cheapened the brand of intelligence. Too many people in the military, Congress and the administration have access. Part of that creates a casual environment in which people think they can get away with these things," she said.
The Pentagon has promised a review of its policies and access to its network and is already talking about banning flash drives, like the one Manning used.
"We should make sure that we have the fixes in, that we have confidence that that information will not be disseminated, except for those who need to know. And frankly, I'm worried about the additional information that Wikileaks apparently has," McCain said.
"Let's fix the problem, hold people responsible, and make sure this kind of thing never happens again," he said.