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Security Violation?: U.S. Troops Told They Can't Access WikiLeaks Website

The homepage of the WikiLeaks.org website is seen on a computer after leaked military documents were posted.
The homepage of the WikiLeaks.org website is seen on a computer after leaked military documents were posted.

As Noah Shachtman, the editor of Wired's Danger Room blog notes, "any citizen, any foreign spy, any member of the Taliban, and any terrorist can go to the WikiLeaks website, and download detailed information about how the U.S. military waged the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2009."

Members of that same military, however, are now banned from looking at those internal military documents. "Doing so would introduce potentially classified information on unclassified networks," according to one directive issued by the armed forces.

In a memorandum obtained by The Washington Times, the Special Security Office of the Marine Corps Intelligence Department said that, "by willingly accessing the WIKILEAKS website for the purpose of viewing the posted classified material -- these actions constitute the unauthorized processing, disclosure, viewing, and downloading of classified information onto an UNAUTHORIZED computer system not approved to store classified information, meaning they have WILLINGLY committed a SECURITY VIOLATION."

The National Security Litigation Division of the Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps said "personnel should not access the WikiLeaks website to view or download the publicized classified information."

Doing so would introduce potentially classified information on unclassified networks.

According to Shachtman, because of WikiLeaks, the Department of Defense may be reconsidering its new, progressive policies about new media.

"There was a time, just a few months ago, when the Pentagon appeared to be growing comfortable with the emerging digital media landscape," he writes.

Troops were free to blog and tweet, as long as they used their heads and didn’t disclose secrets. Thumb drives and DVDs could be employed, as long as they didn't carry viruses or classified information. But the WikiLeaks disclosures -- tens of thousands of classified documents -- seem to have reversed that trajectory.

The purpose of all the stern memos and warnings may be to strike fear into U.S. troops, Shachtman concludes, begging this question:

Does clinging to military regulations at the expense of basic logic encourage people to respect classification policy -- or only make the secrecy regime seem more absurd.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.
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