05 December 2010

Misleading headlines, lack of understanding confuse Wikileaks issue

Have you seen this headline?

State Department To Columbia University Students: DO NOT Discuss WikiLeaks On Facebook, Twitter

It's been all over the news the past few days.  Read the comments.  Terrible, isn't it?  Well, no.  If you actually read the article, you'll see that this is a terribly inaccurate headline.  Within the article itself is a quote from State Department spokesman Phillip J. Crowley:
This is not true. We have instructed State Department employees not to access the WikiLeaks site and download posted documents using an unclassified network since these documents are still classified. We condemn what Mr. Assange is doing, but have given no advice to anyone beyond the State Department to my knowledge.
The article also explains the source of the warning:
An email from SIPA's Office of Career Services went out Tuesday afternoon with a caution from the official, an alumnus of the school. Students who will be applying for jobs in the federal government could jeopardize their prospects by posting links to WikiLeaks online, or even by discussing the leaked documents on social networking sites, the official was quoted as saying.
"[The alumnus] recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter," the Office of Career Services advised students. "Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government."
So there you have it.  A concerned alumnus, who is looking out for the future of these students, is trying to help them avoid a classified spillage incident by preventing an issue that could come up during a future clearance investigation.  This is actually good advice, but since most people don't read past the headline, it's a terrible article.

Back to Mr. Crowley's statement:
We have instructed State Department employees not to access the WikiLeaks site and download posted documents using an unclassified network since these documents are still classified. 
All or most government agencies (and many federal contractors) are telling their employees the exact same thing.  This isn't about preventing free speech, or preventing anyone from doing anything legal.  It is because, according to Executive Order 13526, Section 1.1(4)(c) states "Classified Information shall not be declassified automatically as a result of any unauthorized disclosure of identical or similar information.”  So if you download a still-classified State Department cable onto your unclassified computer (home or work) from Wikileaks, you are in effect and in reality creating a security incident involving the spillage of classified materials.  This is a big deal.
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