Don’t you like reading business news? Few can resist the heart pumping, breathless headlines of how proud the company is that ‘we won the contract for this special product!’

The first thing you read about is the buzzword associated with the classified program. Groundpounder perhaps, or Greenpath might be one. These are imaginary titles for ‘classified contracts’ in this example. It varies of course from contract to contract. Unless someone tells you otherwise, you can discuss the title only in public meetings, and not any details. Is that right? Is that completely true?

Let’s say someone wants to know how much the contract is worth. Can you deny them access to that information? Generally no, since Americans cannot be denied information regarding how their government spends their money. There are lengthy Department of Justice decisions which argue that. Likewise, especially in the arena of modern contracts, the opposite is true, too. What to do? You need to have your lawyers consult with government officials on what can and cannot be revealed to the public. What about all the details of the classified contract? Now there is something else again. And then there are your subcontractors. How much do you want to reveal to them? What can be revealed to them, even if they hold the proper clearances?

Sensitive Information in a Request for Proposals

The Request for Proposals is an unclassified document, and lists the infinite numbers of details which must be met to complete this project. This is made available through the government office originating the contract. It is available for anyone to request, and once read, makes the reader well versed in what the project entails so that his company can bid on it. Of course, it must be reviewed before release to insure no classified information about the project is specifically mentioned or even implied. This document is also available to spies, thieves, information brokers, and a host of others, both good and bad, through the Freedom of Information Act. What does this tell the government clearance holder? Get this document thoroughly reviewed in writing by subject matter specialists, public affairs teams, and security officials before you make it public. Make this a standard policy. Brief this requirement to your personnel, too.

This and other documents, news stories, your ‘we got the contract‘ public news releases, and business product reviews are all grist for the espionage mill. Espionage services troll the internet waves looking for anything at all connected to your newly won product. Oh, and remember all those names compromised by hackers? Such massive downloads appear almost monthly, by the thousands, millions even. They include your employees. The spy will cull through those names to see who is involved in the secret project’s code named activity. Or, he will seek out your employee who might know someone who is.

How to Handle Major Classified Projects

Compartmentalization is important. Establish a known program on how to deal with a new project. Each cleared member should be briefed on how to respond to inquiries, for inquiries will come. Know what they can say, but more importantly, what they cannot say to colleagues or inquirers. You don’t know for whom the inquirers are ultimately working. These days spies simply take the expedient of calling someone who works on a project, and asking about it. Simple, effective, and career destroying. Of course, you might also compromise millions of dollars of government Research and Development, and that in turn will cost lives down the road when such a compromised system is deployed.

So before this apocalyptic plateau is reached, plan accordingly. Everyone must be on board. It is always critical, and I’m not using that word lightly, for employees to see the project chief present at meetings where the norms for response are discussed. It is important that all employees know you should forward unsolicited inquiries to the Public Affairs Office, for example. Also, be sure to record the names and companies of any inquirers. This will help in any damage assessment if information gets out.

Any number of unique security measures are attached to a new contract, so think the company response through. See to it that no issue is unaddressed. Take the time to solicit the questions of your workers before, during and after your briefing. If the boss is present, they will conclude this is important to him or her, and their careers. This way, you’ll engage them. They’ll feel even more part of the team, and will appreciate your cleared actions all the more.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.