Bone-headed security decsions (wikileak edition)

Hey…Wikileaks is in the process of releasing 250,000 diplomatic cables written over the past four decades.  They’ve had the information for months now and have given at least some of it to the press.  What’s the U.S. government do?

Attempt to keep the information from U.S. government employees.  Never mind everyone else and their brother has access to it.  The U.S. government position is:

Classified information, whether or not already posted on public Web sites or disclosed to the media, remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors, until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. government authority.

Now, I can certainly understand the forbidding of the downloading and viewing of these documents on work computers.  After all, it there are pretty clear rules about the storing of classified information of work computers and having these on unclassified machines would make accountability difficult.  Besides, what the hell are you doing screwing around with Wikileaks at work anyway?  The fact that they’re extending the edict to include the personal computers of employees and contractors is what I don’t understand.

The information is out there.  Government policy does NOT prohibit people from viewing media accounts of classified information.

This requirement does not restrict employee or contractor access to non-classified, publicly available news reports (and other non-classified material) that may in turn discuss classified material, as distinguished from access to underlying documents that themselves are marked classified (including if the underlying classified documents are available on public websites or otherwise in the public domain).

So, if a media report quotes one of these documents at length do you have to report yourself or is that OK?  How much of the underlying document can you see without violating this rule?  How would you know?

A completely unenforceable rule which does nothing except further the exact opposite of what they intend.  Rules like this erode the idea of classified information rather than strengthen it.  After all, are we really to believe that the government will compare a list of everyone who has viewed or downloaded these documents (assuming you could do such a thing) against the list of every government employee or person who has a security clearance?  There are so many ways to see this information in unedited form that making rules like this only encourage dishonesty.  They’re going to encourage people to make up their own rules on the fly which will set the precedent to do the same in the future when thinking about secure information that isn’t out in the public domain.

The Social Security Administration has raised the possibility of criminally prosecuting government employees who access the data.

Individuals may be subject to applicable federal criminal statutes for unlawful access to or transmission of classified information.”

And what about foreign nationals that we give security clearances to?  Should we expel British diplomats if we find out they’ve downloaded the documents from embassy or their personal computers (after all, that’s espionage!)?

Guys, the information has been released.  No amount of sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming “La La La” is going to change that.  Thousands (millions?) of people are going to have access to and read some of these documents.  Deal with it.

Oh…but that’s not all.  Now, we’re trying to frighten college students.

Columbia University confirmed…that the Office of Career Services had emailed students at the university’s school of international and public affairs, a recruiting ground for the state department.

The office said it had received advice from an alumnus who “recommends that you do not post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. 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.”

Ah…what a great plan.  I can almost imagine hearing it at some brain-dead meeting.

Flunky 1:  What are we going to do about Wikileaks?  We don’t want people to read our classified material.

Flunky 2:  I know!  Let’s encourage people to ignore the leaks.  We’ll do this by drawing an incredible amount of attention to them and make all sorts of unenforceable threats if they look at them.  Because, you know, people are never tempted by forbidden things.

Flunky 3:  And better still!  I’m sure this won’t encourage tech-savvy, information freedom activists  to spread the information further.

All together now:  Brilliant!

Perhaps the government could better spend it’s time by reviewing these documents and seeing if they could declassify at least some of them.  Keeping them classified at this point is really just silly.  They were classified when leaked so criminal charges against anyone responsible should still stand but c’mon.

2 responses to “Bone-headed security decsions (wikileak edition)

  1. You don’t have a Need to Know. That’s why you can’t read classified WikiLeaks docs at home. Yeah I know, it’s stupid, but that’s what they’re going to hang you on. And that’s why I’m going to avoid reading the cables myself, just because I know the pinheads out there are going to use this against us in a bureaucratic pinhead way.

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