What are the rules about handling protected classified information? Does the government really care about leaks of classified information?

If you currently hold or are applying for a new security clearance, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’

There are 13 adjudicative criteria used to determine eligibility to classified information. Guideline K covers handling protected information.

What does that mean? It covers both deliberately disclosing classified information, as well as negligent disclosure. It also involves inappropriate efforts to view classified documents you shouldn’t have access to.

Current presidential candidates aside, there are several high-profile cases where violations to Guideline K have been career ending.

Notorious violations of classified information

They include Gen. David Petraeus’ affair to remember with Paula Broadwell. Petraeus faced criminal prosecution and Broadwell had her clearance revoked.

General James Cartwright also lost his security clearance for allegedly leaking details about the Stuxnet computer virus.

State Department employee Peter van Buren lost his security clearance for linking to Wikileaks from his personal blog.

Here are other examples where guideline k was used to revoke or deny an individuals’ security clearance:

  • The applicant left a building unsecure; kept combinations to two safes written on a piece of paper in his wallet; and failed to “double-wrap” sensitive material during its transport.  The judge noted the applicant’s “carelessness and inattention to established procedures” when charged with the protection of sensitive material. Case No. 10-05104
  • The applicant, as the last person to leave the office at night, failed to properly secure the lock before leaving; the applicant downloaded classified information he thought to be unclassified onto the company’s Wide Area Network.  Case No. 10-01648
  • The applicant “deliberately concealed misuse of an unclassified [employer-issued] computer …This misuse included surfing the Internet, looking at stock quotes, and buying things….A coworker mentioned in passing that a security officer had advised that personal use of the computer was unauthorized. [Applicant] deliberately did not follow the guidance …because he believed it was too rigid and rationalized he did not know what the real policy was…”  ISCR Case No. 07-08119

What does Guideline K come down to? Willful or foolish disclosures of Uncle Sam’s secrets. The theory is, a security clearance holder should be held to a higher standard. If you demonstrate you’re unable to do so – whether a whispered word between two people or a link to something you shouldn’t have seen in the first place – there’s a good chance you’ll lose your clearance.

Read this for more information on Guideline K and the other criteria for holding a security clearance.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.