We’ve gotten a lot of reader response from people inside government and who work for big government contractors on this issue of not being able to access from non-secure computers whatever classified information Wikileaks has posted.
Reading through the OMB guidance on this that our Rachel Slajda obtained, there’s a certain green eyeshade quality to the concerns that I can understand.
Those charged with protecting our secrets have elaborate systems in place — although they obviously didn’t work very well this time — to check regularly on whether classified information is being compromised. So imagine the confusion and disruption that’s caused when a non-secure computer is screened for any improperly obtained classified information and up pops documents a federal employee casually downloaded from Wikileaks. How do you tell the difference? And so on.
But at a certain point these things start to become comical, as anyone who’s ever dealt with a bureaucracy well knows. Are the new measures being undertaken to bar access to Wikileaks really about protecting secrets or are they to prevent employees from gumming up future audits? I’m being partly flippant there, but only partly.
A sampling of reader emails:
TPM Reader TS:
I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. There is a big difference between reporting that is done based on classified information, and allowing the public to access raw classified documents. Even if they are in the public domain, it doesn’t matter. The information in them was obtained illegally and the status of that information has not changed. It was classified before it was obtained, and it is still classified today.
Ideally, nobody would be able to access it anywhere, because those providing it are in violation of U.S. law. But since that cat is out of the bag (and out of our jurisdiction), it seems pretty logical to me that—at the very least—access from federal government facilities would be a no-no.
I’m afraid I don’t see the slippery slope here.
TPM Reader CC:
Look, there’s a very simple explanation for the LoC’s decision to block wikileaks: they have to.
Presumably most of their systems are — by law and regulation — only
approved for unclassified information . The documents available on
wikileaks are original documents and *marked* as classified. Thus,
introducing them (by downloading via a web browser) creates a
reportable security incident — introduction of classified material to
an unclassified system — and requires that the system(s) involved be
sanitized. We’re talking disk drives destroyed, etc. It’s basically
the digital equivalent of a hazmat spill.
The fact that the contents are discussed in the media is irrelevant,
for two reasons: first, publication in the media doesn’t automatically
declassify anything; and second, since it’s all unlabeled and stripped
of context, it doesn’t carry the same legal obligations.
For once, the paranoia isn’t justified.
TPM Reader SC:
I work for a DHS component agency, and we were all instructed not to acceess Wikileaks. Why? Because there is classified material there. Just because it’s been leaked doesn’t declassify material. And if I downloaded classified material on my non-classified system (I do not have a security clearance)? My computer would be contaminated and have to be wiped clean, as it hasn’t been configured to protect classified information.
David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.