By now most cleared employees know not to fire up The Intercept on their workplace computer (or anywhere else). But with the latest leak causing news outlets to publish, link to or comment on classified material, the Defense Security Service thought it wise to issue a notice to contractors, offering them both a warning and guidance on what to do if they encounter classified information online.
The June 12 advisory confirms what the NISPOM already states – just because information is published online, or becomes banter during your favorite morning talk show, doesn’t mean anything regarding the actual classification. For cleared personnel, that means the typical rules governing classified information still apply (so you may as well just put your morning New York Times in the burn bag…just kidding!). The memo states:
It is the responsibility of every cleared contractor to protect classified information and to follow established procedures for accessing classified information only through authorized means. Contractor personnel who inadvertently discover potentially classified information in the public domain should immediately report its existence to their Facility Security Officer (FSO).
The memo goes onto explain how individuals can clear offending material from their browser cache. It also clarifies that this policy is only applicable to the inadvertent viewing of classified information (so if your job involves data mining for potentially classified information, your regular reporting rules apply).
It’s a memo DSS is once again resurrecting after Reality Winner was caught printing and mailing classified information to a news outlet. Similar warnings were issued following Chelsea Manning’s 2010 leak of more than 500,000 classified reports and cables to Wikileaks.
The memo may seem erroneous, but the penalties for contractors found accessing classified materials online, even on open source websites, are real. Unlike the uninformed (or unconcerned public), failure to follow classification procedures may cost your clearance and your job. While it pays to stay informed, choose your sources wisely, and don’t willingly click on news outlets promising to offer a bit of intel.