State Department Telling Students Who Apply For Jobs That If They Mention Wikileaks On Twitter, They Won't Be Hired

from the head-in-sand dept

It appears that the State Department really wants to put its head in the sand when it comes to the whole Wikileaks’ release of diplomatic cables. Mathew Ingram points us to the news that a career services person at Columbia University apparently sent around an email, purportedly concerning a conversation they’d had with an alumnus at the State Department warning students who wanted to work in the State Department to ignore Wikileaks. Specifically, it said that, as part of the background check on you, the State Department would review your social networking accounts, like Twitter and Facebook, and if they saw you had talked about Wikileaks, they might think you couldn’t handle confidential information:

From: “Office of Career Services”

Date: November 30, 2010 15:26:53 EST

Hi students,

We received a call today from a SIPA alumnus who is working at the State Department. He asked us to pass along the following information to anyone who will be applying for jobs in the federal government, since all would require a background investigation and in some instances a security clearance.

The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. He recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.

Office of Career Services

Assuming this is accurate (and it may prove not to be…), it’s difficult to think of a much more ridiculous response. Talking about what’s going on with Wikileaks is hardly an indication of how one deals with confidential information, because that information is no longer confidential. Pretending that you shouldn’t even discuss a rather important and topical story of interest to those who actually do care about diplomacy and public policy, isn’t just a “put your head in the sand” approach, it’s actively discouraging the folks who might have the most insight and interest into these subjects from getting a job where they might be of assistance.

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Comments on “State Department Telling Students Who Apply For Jobs That If They Mention Wikileaks On Twitter, They Won't Be Hired”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Just because the information is public does not mean its not still top secret, those in law enforcement, the military, etc are actully under orders to not talk about or look at this information.

I do aggree that the policy is silly but the state department can refuse anyone for any reason including political ideals. (excluding protected classes of course)

Free Capitalist (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Just because the information is public does not mean its not still top secret, those in law enforcement, the military, etc are actully under orders to not talk about or look at this information.

This I know to be true.

However, I’m not sure the state department can get away with public prior restraint. Applicants to a position with the government may not have had prior classified experience and therefore would not have been subject to the indefinite “no discussion” obligation for classified material.

Predisposition is an unavoidable reality everyone has to deal with to some degree. However public discrimination can lead to civil or even criminal liability.

In this case, we have the State Department retroactively restricting potential applicants from exercising the very rights that department is supposed to be helping to protect.

Seems a bit off to me.

ChimpBush McHitlerBurton says:

Re: Re:

“Just because the information is public does not mean its not still top secret…”

Hey Dumbass,

Here’s a news flash for you: When information is public, that PRECISELY means that it’s no longer top secret.

Public information is “Bottom Secret”, which coincidentally is my pet name for my baby’s back. SNAP!


rwahrens (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hey, dumbass,

Whether it is public does NOT affect its official classification. Which is the point of this story.

The cables may have been leaked, but the information BEHIND the cables has most likely not, and there may be a lot more there than the cables reveal. THAT is why the information is still considered confidential or top secret.

Which also explains why the government wont discuss the info. They don’t want to confirm or deny anything, so further info that may still be secret won’t get released.

People that talk about secret info often inadvertently reveal part of those secrets without even knowing they’e done so, which is why, if you don’t talk about it, you can’t reveal anything.

Damage control is the point here.

ChimpBush McHitlerBurton says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sorry. Wrong.

You miss my point entirely. “Classification” counts for nothing, unless you are classifying reality.

Here in reality, something which is widely known, can not be logically called “secret”. No matter what you want to “classify” it as, it is what it is, and in this case it is, or will be soon, public knowledge.

Public knowledge is by definition, not secret. Period. If the State Department wants to deny me employment because I talked about something as a civilian which is public knowledge… They are being silly.

In fact, that’s what the Anonymous Coward said before I called him a dumbass…

“I do aggree that the policy is silly…”

So, regardless of “what this article is about”, I made a point of my own… related but ancillary, and as such it needn’t be bothered by pedantic logiphobes such as yourself.


BearGriz72 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Confidential ≠ Classified
CLASSIFIED: information to which access is restricted by law or regulation to particular classes of persons. CONFIDENTIAL: private, secret {as in confidential information}

So yes the information may technically be classified, but as soon as it is available on Wikileaks (or a newspaper article, or any other website), it is by definition no longer confidential. That is the point.

Mark (profile) says:

Note a statement of policy

This is clearly not a statement of a written policy, and your subject of this post is misleading. This is a warning passed on from an employee to a career services person.

Having gone through 2 government background checks, this is not surprising in the least. They have to hire people that can be trusted with confidential information, and if you are someone who supports what Wikileaks is doing, then you are a risk.

This is probably one of the more logical reasons for not hiring someone for a job that requires a security clearance. I’ve heard of people not getting clearances/jobs with the government for far less.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Note a statement of policy

But that’s intentionally forcing those who work for you or ever may want to work for you to be ignorant of what’s going on in the world around you. I know the government probably does want a bunch of mindless drowns working for them, but it’s not how reality works.

But, since the government seems to be out to screw every single person living here, I guess it’s a good thing they’re in denial. They can’t fight what they refuse to see.

anonymous says:

Re: Re: Note a statement of policy

But *reading* documents classified as “confidential” is far different from *speaking* about them on Twitter, in public, in print, or on social media sites.

The word here is “discretion.” Even though it’s made public, the officials must still be discrete about the matter. Would you gossip about what’s going in your house even though everyone knows about you’re parents’ messy divorce? Probably not. The same applies here.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Note a statement of policy

I deal with confidential stuff all the time. I keep my mouth shut about it just like I’ve been asked. But, if it’s in the newspaper, I can talk about it all I want.

Don’t try to pull emotion into this, the government isn’t going threw a divorce, they’re hiding things their citizens should know about.

Jason says:

Re: Note a statement of policy


The fact that the unnamed alum appears not to have the good sense to know that his phone call would become a memo that might then get leaked to the public and make the State Department look stupid is the most ironic part of the whole deal.

The fact that the same alum had the good sense to remain anonymous suggests….

At the very least it’s a clever hoax. If so, well played! At the worst, it only serves to resound the theme that the issue is really internal and not to be scapegoated to Wikil…well, them that shall not be named.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

The title should read

Columbia University professor, heard from a friend at the state department, who probably heard government gossip from someone who believes, that talking about wikileaks might cause problems for you on a security clearance ….

Its the whole whisper circle. Sit in a circle, tell the guy next to you a joke, then pass it along to the next and the next. after a couple people the joke become mangled.

Government workers and all, having serious attention to detail, always doing more than is asked of them, and always following procedure. After all they are the best of the best of the best. -end sarc

The true story is probably along the lines of a memo being circulated that someone didn’t get or read. After being told what was in it, and not quite understanding it, called his friend.

darryl says:

It does not matter

It does not matter if they tell them or not, its better to tell them, because that is exactly what they will do.

It is exactly what they ALWAYS do, and it is exactly what they will continue to do in the future..

So it makes sense to warn potential employees, people who might want to get a job, with responsibility in the Government.

You have to display an understand of security, and sensitive information.

If you cannot display that, you wont get the job. At least you will know why..

If you try to get a job that requires even higher security, your entire background is checked, all the way to what schools you attended.

As well, your immediate and extended family will be checked out.

You, yourself will be extensively interviewed by ‘security people’, they will go through your personal finances, talk to your friends. spy on you..

As a kid I had an amateur radio license, once I spoke to someone in Bulgaria (communist at the time), I put the contanct in my log book..

When the spies saw it, I was questioned regarding why I was talking to someone in that country..

But they are just being honest, ofcourse, if you indicate you lack of trust with information. You cannot expect to be employed in a position where you will have access to such information..

I have a very high security clearance, ive seen some amazing things, but there is no way I would ever talk about them. What is the point ? its a secret for a reason, and I am not qualified to asses if it should be secret or not..

Neither is Wikileaks, especially when intelligence organisations use ‘information aggregation’, traffic flow analysis and so on. To say that it is not critical information, or information that is damaging to security is what appears the most stupid thing about this entire issue…..

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