Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wikileaks Files are Still Classified

I don't want to dwell so much on the files themselves, but given some of the backlash against some statements and actions from the government in the past couple days needs some response.

In spite of being available publicly, the documents on Wikileaks are still classified information.

Some of it has to do with not giving legitimacy to leaks, partially to protect redacted sources, and partially because technically the information contained in those documents are still classified. While the question "why?" is relevant, it doesn't much matter as the documents are still classified. So what are the consequences of this? There are a couple.

1. If you view the documents it could endanger a current or future security clearance you may need to work. For current holders, viewing classified information when not authorized is against your agreement and the law. Viewing it on unclassified systems (personal or NIPR computers) is a violation of numerous agreements and laws. For future/potential holders, looking at classified information isn't a good way to start your clearance approval process. So yeah, don't post links to Facebook, etc. Reading and posting stories about the leaks are not illegal in any way according to my understanding, even if the documents are quoted. As long as you're not looking at a page that has "SECRET" or some such thing stamped on it.

2. Viewing the documents on your company's computer system could jeopardize your company's ability to maintain or gain a facility clearance and/or do classified work for the U.S. government. I don't blame Amazon from kicking Wikileaks out. They want to get government contracts, including classified contracts and having unauthorized classified data on their servers will prevent that from ever happening. It's pure self-interest. (And please don't comment any bullshit about the First Amendment here - private actors don't have to provide platforms for people to spout whatever they want, especially if it's not in their best interests. Just like we reserve the right to delete stupid, crude, and off-topic comments here.) Like the reasons above for persons, same applies to companies.

Some people might say it's stupid that leaked information remains classified. Well, yes and no. Yup, everyone in the world with internet access can read it. However, for the reasons above, this is one of the few ways the government has any leverage over leaked info. I can't entirely blame them for holding on to something. And there certainly shouldn't be a Wikileaks exemption to this rule just because they've leaked so much. That would give too much credit to WL from the government's perspective.

So bottom line here is: the documents are still classified so be careful if you want to look at them and think of the implications starting from that perspective. Also, before you start beating on people for doing things (like many did to Amazon and likely Pay Pal in the near future), think about why they're doing these things. It's probably not kowtowing to the government - it's probably for their bottom line. I'm not defending them, but you're delusional if you think these corporations care about anything else.


  1. It appears as though the State Department only wants to recruit people who have been living under a rock. While I agree that State has more leverage if the cables are classified, it would be idiotic to penalize prospective employees for reading/commenting on the cables.

    Whatever the official stance, the information is public. Ignoring this information puts one at a disadvantage relative to one's peers, and removes one from the discussion of them. Does State really want the conversations on Wikileaks to be driven by people who have no interest in government service, and are therefore likely to be less informed on these issues?

    Furthermore, State is ignoring the difference between reading information that is de facto public and upholding a commitment to maintain confidentiality. By definition, none (or maybe just a very small number) of the prospective employees have security clearances, and the confidentiality obligations that come with them. The fact that I have read and commented on these cables says nothing about my ability to not divulge state secrets I may learn at some future time.

    This effort seems like a last-ditch attempt at damage control by the State department, and a misguided one at that.

  2. Jason--good points. I've been getting about an email a day on my work email about all of this. They explain things in the same way that you do...


  3. My future thanks you.

  4. I mean, I understand this, sure, but isn't this sort of why they invented the cliche "closing the barn door after the horses."?

    I understand why companies after contracts, like Amazon, would do what they did. But to tell grad students not to share information if they want a job comes off a bit more like asshole-future-employer then concerned-gvt-official.

    The news is out there, its kind of bizarre to tell people fascinated by this sort of stuff to not share it with their friends. No?

    When I saw the e-mail disseminated to grad schools, it just reminded me of when law firms send out reminders that light-colored suits, facial hair, and hair over the ears is strictly forbidden. It just doesn't ring with the audience the way they want it to.

    That said, I don't hang out at wikileaks mostly because I don't like Assange giving me bedroom eyes and their website architecture sucks.

  5. I should say they explain like you do, except in obscure bureaucratic language...

  6. Everything you've written here is true, but it is COMPLETELY INSANE for the State Department to try to spook students and other potential job-seekers into not viewing the leaked cables.

    For one thing, the level of interest one exhibits in this subject is less likely to usefully inform judgment of one's ability to safeguard classified information than one's ability to keep their head firmly lodged in the sand. Reading documents that are now in the public domain has absolutely no bearing on one's ability to safeguard classified information. NONE. You can say "but the documents are still classified!", and that's correct. And you can say that it's a bad idea to view them from government (or school) computers, and that's probably also correct. But you CAN'T say with a straight face that someone who stays current on the most talked-about foreign policy/national security story of the year is a diversion/disclosure risk. It's just stupid, and it's not even remotely true.

    The government uses all manner of security-clearance related threats to try to keep people from breaking the law or otherwise behaving badly, and most of the time it's utter nonsense. Just ask every former pot-head you know with a SECRET clearance.

    Jason, you say that "this is one of the few ways the government has any leverage over leaked info," and that's true. It's also true that one of the few ways I can exert leverage on the sea level is to piss in the ocean, but that doesn't make it meaningful action, and it doesn't make it anything but totally idiotic barn-door slamming once the horse has already run out and emigrated to a different continent.

    All that said, you can't say the warning hasn't had an effect: a thoughtful and well-reasoned comment on this topic has already been deleted (presumably by the individual who left it, and presumably because of second thoughts about the goverment tracking down his IP address).

  7. Gulliver:

    Are you talking about the comment I made? Because I swore I made a comment on this, and now it's not here. So either

    a) it was really late and I didn't successfully hit "Post Comment" or...

    b) computers are weird and scary and don't always do what I want them to do.

    Either way, I didn't mean to delete my comment. So if you're talking about mine, well, do YOU know where it went?

    And if you're not talking about mine, well, mock me for being part of the Me Generation.

  8. AJK -- Yeah, I actually have two of your comments in my email, but I don't see them here. Let me check if they got spammed. Otherwise, I suppose it's possible my colleagues deleted them out of an abundance of caution for your future! (LULZ)

  9. Ok, there was obviously some kind of a spam issue that I don't understand. Ignore my last bit about State's intimidation campaign being successful.

  10. Heh, weird that writing from a Google Account would go into spam. Again: computers are scary. I'll write my next comment snail mail.

    And yeah, I've kind of made the decision a while ago that gov't work is probably not for me. Which is a whole other story, because everyone assumes I'm a recovering addict or otherwise unhirable, and not that I've made the conscious decision not to do it.

  11. gmail usually deletes stupid comments, that's probably what happened, AJK. not that yours was a stupid comment per se, but Huawei is somehow tapped into google and the Chinese don't mess around with stupid comments.


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