Military Prefers To Keep Its Head In The Sand: Bans All Employees From Visiting The Intercept

from the because-that'll-work dept

Not this again. A few years ago, the US military blocked access to a bunch of news sites, including the NY Times and The Guardian, in an attempt to block military members from reading the news because some of the news included the leaked State Department cables that Wikileaks had released in conjunction with those news sites. Last year, the Defense Department blocked all access to the Guardian after it started reporting on the Ed Snowden leaks. And now, The Intercept reports, the military has also banned access to The Intercept. Of course, no one in the military will know that the public knows about this, because they’re apparently not allowed to read about it.

Oddly, this time around, rather than just putting in a filter to block such browsing (though that’s there too), the military has distributed the ridiculous memo above, telling people to avoid visiting the website. I guess that’s so they know “not” to visit the site from a personal computer or device as well. A (not surprisingly) confidential source told The Intercept just how nutty this directive is:

?Even though I have a top secret security clearance, I am still forbidden to read anything on the website,? said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. ?I find this very disturbing that they are threatening us and telling us what websites and news publishers we are allowed to read or not.?

As we’ve said in the past, this is just silly. And, yes, I know the rationale that defenders of this kind of ridiculous argument will make. There are rules about how classified material is handled, and if a classified document gets on a computer when it’s not supposed to be there, it’s a massive horrible emergency and creates a huge mess for the IT folks. But let’s take a step back from that and deal with reality. As we’ve noted, when it comes to things like non-disclosure agreements in corporate settings, there’s always a clause that says if the same information becomes public through other means (i.e., not the signing party releasing it), the information is no longer considered confidential and subject to the agreement. That is a sensible, reality-based policy.

If classified documents are being reported on in the press, they’re publicly available. Continuing to pretend that they’re still classified is just ridiculous. It means that those in the military are suddenly less informed about issues that they often need to know about. I can’t see how that makes any sense at all.

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Comments on “Military Prefers To Keep Its Head In The Sand: Bans All Employees From Visiting The Intercept”

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Anonymous Coward says:

You may not want to confirm that a particular leaked document is authentic. That’s fine – just because a document is leaked doesn’t mean you have to declassify the document.

But if The Intercept just published a document, then the version that The Intercept just published is, for any realistic purpose, not classified. If you got it from an unclassified public source, then that particular copy should not be considered classified.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

This. If the military classified the fact that the sky is blue, military personnel would be prohibited from looking out the window, discussing the color of the sky with those not cleared for it, seeking out information on what color the sky is, and while not prohibited, they would be strongly discouraged from discussing the color blue at all.

Even though everyone affected by it already knows the sky is blue, them’s the rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ryan Gallagher’s article at The Intercept includes text from one of the directives issued to military staff. Part of it reads:

Viewing potentially classified material (even material already wrongfully released in the public domain) from unclassified equipment will cause you long term security issues. This is considered a security violation.

I don’t think this ban (or any of the others mentioned) has anything to do with actually preventing military personnel from reading the news or seeing the contents of “outed” classified material. It’s a reminder.

More accurately, it’s a threat. This is the Intelligence Community and the people at the top of the DoD reminding the little guys that dissent won’t be tolerated. Questioning the validity of anything, having doubts about the legality or ethics of your duties, or considering making a complaint (including using the “proper internal whistleblower channels”) will result in a lifetime of problems. They are telling the troops that they are always being watched, and that even innocuous activities can turn out to be violations of regulations. Step out of line, and suddenly charges for a whole host of innocuous and trivial misdeeds may be brought to bear.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually a smart move

If they limit the number of employees and contractors who access the site, then it makes it much easier to isolate the leaker through analysis and investigation of the metadata available to them. They are just trying to reduce the size of the haystack to make it easier to find the needle. They don’t collect that stuff for nothing.

Anonymous Coward says:

“[T]here’s always a clause that says if the same information becomes public through other means (i.e., not the signing party releasing it), the information is no longer considered confidential and subject to the agreement. That is a sensible, reality-based policy.”

Have seen such a clause many times, but it by no means universally used because numerous situations arise where its inclusion in a document will quickly be revealed as the personification of “What could I have been thinking to put that in the terms? I hope I can weather the storm and keep my job.”

zip says:

"there's always a clause that says ..."

“when it comes to things like non-disclosure agreements in corporate settings, there’s always a clause that says … “

Not in NDAs that I’ve been forced to sign. Anyway, it seems to be a blanket rule that contracts in general can be expected to have stuff in them that’s not enforcible — and that’s the whole point; this “kitchen sink” approach is a legal bluff designed to overwhelm and intimidate people. Everything written into a contract (whether legal or not) is there to benefit the party that wrote the contract — and the more draconian clauses thrown in, the merrier.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: "there's always a clause that says ..."

A contract is an agreement between two (or more) parties. As such, each party must receive consideration for the contract to be considered valid. By its very nature, it is impossible for a contract to benefit only one party. The question of which party wrote the actual wording of the contract is irrelevant (unless they try trickery, but that is fraud), what matters is the agreement reached by the parties. The written contract merely codifies that agreement. Saying that contracts only serve one party is short-sighted, dangerously self-fulfilling, and just flat out wrong.

Further, there is no point to including anything in a contract that is unenforceable. If it can’t be enforced, not only does it have no value or meaning, it also lessens the standing of the entire agreement.

Lastly, under no circumstances is anyone ever forced to sign a contract. It is always a choice, an agreement. If you disagree with the terms, change them. Strike out clauses you don’t agree to, provide a counter offer. If there is a large disparity in negotiating power (e.g. consumer contracts), then you need to make the value judgement of whether the benefits outweigh the costs, and if not, go to a competitor. In most other scenarios (employment agreements, business agreements, etc.) you have some negotiating power, as you have something the other party wants. If you didn’t, there wouldn’t be a contract. Determine how much negotiating power you have, and apply it as best you can to change the agreement to your benefit. The only time you will ever have zero negotiating power is when you believe you have zero negotiating power.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: "there's always a clause that says ..."

“In most other scenarios (employment agreements, business agreements, etc.) you have some negotiating power, as you have something the other party wants. If you didn’t, there wouldn’t be a contract.”

This was one of a handful of lessons being in business taught me. If you’ve reached the point where you’re signing things, the other party has already made the decision that they want the deal to work, and they become flexible to reasonable changes in the contracts.

Before I learned that, I emotionally reacted to contracts as “if I make a stink now, it could ruin the whole deal”. That is rarely true, and when it is, the deal was too shaky to sign off on to begin with.

Lurker Keith says:

How can the Military...

How can we expect the Military to safeguard our Constitution (their JOB) if they consistently refuse to follow it with regards to their Soldiers? Joining the Military should not require surrendering your Constitutional Rights.

A ban on what News sources personnel are permitted to get their News from is an affront to Freedom of the Press.

Anonymous Coward says:

Granted that it’s stupid, but it’s not about the leaked document, it’s about the individual with the security clearance.

It makes perfect sense from a military point of view. The fact that a classified document has been leaked to the public does not change its classification (obviously the “secret” is out, but the classification is still the same). The standard answer for any question concerning a sensitive or classified situation is that “I can neither confirm nor deny that.” So telling military members not to visit a site that may have leaked classified documents means that the person can truthfully say they cannot confirm nor deny.

Plus, remember that part of having a security clearance means managing what one knows of a classified nature. In other words, the individual is required to know they have clearance to see a particular piece of classified material. Hard to ensure that if you visit a web site known to include random leaked classified documents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

But if the information is openly published, it is either no longer a secret, in which case there is little or no risk in someone with a clearance reading it[1], or it is a forgery, in which case the classification label is meaningless.

The real issue is that if you have obtained a copy of the data, it makes it harder to determine if you got it from (say) The Intercept, or if you gave it to them.

[1] On the one hand, they’re more likely to be loyal to the government, so less likely to use that information in a harmful way, OTOH, they might know some related information which then combined allows them to make deductions they shouldn’t. That’s not in general a big issue, unless the information they already have is something they’d not leak (or have tortured out of them) because it appears too trivial, or because it looks innocent unless you know the other information

Anonymous Coward says:

“Even though I have a top secret security clearance, I am still forbidden to read anything on the website,”

This statement is a common misconception. The fact that you have a given security clearance level has nothing to do with what you are allowed to see.

The security clearance is only step one. You also have to have a need to know, and Top secret and above clearances have hundreds (if not thousands) of sub categories.

Anonymous Coward says:

All Hands
we have received information from our higher headquarters regarding a potential new leaker of classified information, Although no formal validation has occurred , we thought it prudent to warn all employees and subordinate commands.Please do not go to any website entitled “the Intercept” for it very well contain classified material, If you have accidentally or purposely gone to the above mentioned site please report to the infirmary for immediate thought and eyeball extraction.

Ben (profile) says:

Any website?

Please do not go to any website entitled “The Intercept” for it may very well contain classified material.

So, if I set the title of my web page(s) to be “The Intercept”, the military would not be allowed to visit it? Does this apply to the military in cyber command? If so, cool! Now I know how to avoid inspection by the military 🙂

Theodora Michaels (user link) says:

Re: Any website?

My thought exactly. How funny it would be if huge swaths of the internet renamed themselves “The Intercept”! On a popular website, they might be able to tell from traffic statistics whether military personnel are actually obeying this memo.

But that raises the question: what’s meant by “entitled”? Do they mean specifically the “title” attribute, or can it be in a description, url, or heading? Depending on what they mean, people might not know that the site is entitled “The Intercept” until they go there. This memo is stupid on so many levels.

Anonymous Coward says:

How Things Work

1. You’re working in your compartmentalized government division. You’re churning out secrets at the daily recommended rate. Life is good.

2. You inadvertently read classified information that some other division is churning out. Combining what you already know with this leaked information, you suddenly realize that government employment is stupendously boring. You conclude your life would be much better spent drinking beer on a Mexican beach.

3. The government has to find some new shmuck and stupid him down enough to tolerate your old job. It’s work. Bosses get involved; irritation ripples down through the ranks, resulting in increased pie consumption in the cafeteria. Waistlines expand. The government has to buy everybody new pants.

4. Your reading of leaked classified information has caused a nationwide shortage of pants. So don’t do it.

Raging Alcoholic (profile) says:

If people with top security clearance cannot read it how can they know what it is about, who handles that kind of information, and narrow down the suspect list.
maybe they don’t want to use people who have knowledge of top secret information, like the cyber-security kingpin for this administration. Why use someone who knows what they are doing when you can find someone who speaks well and looks good.

Marvin says:

All this idiots making stupid comments need to include their rank from their military service or keep their comments to their selves. I don’t always agree with what the military does or says, but as a senior enlisted, I had a good perspective from which to base my opinion. Non military types just like to rehash old jokes because they don’t know any different. MGySgt.

Tony (profile) says:

Re: Re:

SSgt (E5), USAF, TS/SCI, son of SSgt(ret) USAF who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam

(a) I agree with the jokes. They exist for a reason.
(b) The policy is stupid.
(c) My daughter’s Marine (lance corporal) boyfriend agrees with (a) and (b).
(d) My father would have agreed were he still alive.
(e) I did not enlist in order to tell civilians they couldn’t have an opinion or say it. They do not have to keep their comments to themselves. If you disagree with their opinions, try educating them instead of attacking them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

NSA: There are six hundred million feet in America, just start shooting at random and hope for the best.

FBI: We’ll con some poor deluded fool into letting us steal his foot, sew it onto you, then shoot it off.

CIA: We’ll take your leg, replace it with a prosthetic filled with cocaine, then pay ISIS to shoot the amounted foot. We will then be surprised when they shoot your remaining foot too, but that’s OK because we can stuff your other prosthetic with guns and demand a doubled budget.

SIS: Anywhere you like, but did you know it only fits clown shoes!!!! And it can kick you in just 47 minutes!

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