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Students warned: Read WikiLeaks and you’re out of a government job

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Graduate students at US universities are being warned not to read or post links to WikiLeaks documents, or they could be denied work with the US government.

Several news reports suggest the State Department has been warning university departments that students could fail security screening if they are seen to discuss or post links to WikiLeaks documents on social networking sites. The US government considers the leaked material to be classified, even after public release.

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AboveTheLaw.com has obtained a letter from the career development dean of the Boston University School of Law warning students to stay away from WikiLeaks material.

Today I received information about Wikileaks that I want to pass on to you. This is most relevant if you are going to apply for or have already applied for federal government positions. Two big factors in hiring for many federal government positions are determining if the applicants have good judgment and if they know how to deal with confidential/classified information. The documents released by Wikileaks remain classified; thus, reading them, passing them on, commenting on them may be seen as a violation of Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information. See Section 5.5 (Sanctions).

For many federal government jobs, applicants must obtain security clearances. There are various levels of security checks, but all federal positions require background checks. As part of such checks, social media may be researched to see what you are up to, so DO NOT post links to the documents or make comments on any social media sites. Moreover, polygraphs are conducted for the highest levels of security clearance.

I have not yet heard any fallout about specific individuals, but we wanted to give you this take on the situation.

Maura Kelly
Assistant Dean for Career Development and Public Service

DemocracyNow’s Amy Goodman obtained a copy of a similar letter sent by the office of career services at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

“The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. [A State Department official] 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,” the letter stated.

Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars likens the US government’s efforts to prevent federal employees and prospective employees from reading the leaks to a game of “whack-a-mole,” a view shared by AboveTheLaw’s Elie Mystal:

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Basically, I don’t think the federal government is even competent enough to find all the Wikileaks readers and blacklist them from the federal payroll. I mean, if the FBI or CIA or whatever really was the kind of omnipresent force idealized in movies, tell me how Julian Assange is still alive, much less in a position to publish thousands of confidential documents.

The news comes as the US government has been placing pressure on its employees to stay away from the leaks.

“The recent disclosure of US government documents by WikiLeaks has resulted in damage to our national security,” the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a message to all federal agencies.

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It reminded them that “each federal employee and contractor is obligated to protect classified information” and said that a public release of classified documents did not mean they had been declassified.

“Unauthorized disclosures of classified documents (whether in print, on a blog or on websites) do not alter the documents’ classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents,” the OMB said.

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Reporting on the government’s efforts to stop employees from reading the leaked materials, the New York Times describes it as “a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horse has left.”

With AFP

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