U.S. soldiers in Iraq who try to read about the Wikileaks disclosures—or read coverage of them in mainstream news sites—on unclassified networks get a page warning them that they're about to break the law.
The federal government seems to have lost its mind in a manic game of internet whack-a-mole aimed at getting the Wikileaks State Department cables thrown down the memory hole: First, Sen. Joe Lieberman successfully nudged Amazon into kicking the site off its servers. Then the Library of Congress blocked the site for all employees and users of its computer terminals. Now we learn that the State Department is warning prospective hires that if they write about Wikileaks on Twitter or Facebook, they might not get that job. And now Gawker has learned that military installations in Iraq are trying to keep soldiers from reading about Wikileaks.
A tipster wrote to tell us that "the Army's unclassified, NIPRNET network in Iraq has blocked every major news website because of the Wikileaks issue," going on to say that Foxnews.com, CNN.com, MSNBC.com, the Huffington Post, and a variety of other sites are blocked on the Army's unclassified network. A spokesperson for U.S. forces in Iraq disputed that claim, saying that the web sites aren't actually blocked—it's just that attempts to access them on the unclassified network brings up a warning page saying that you're about to break the law:
[U.S. forces in Iraq have] not blocked any news websites from being read. Because of the Wikileaks release of secret documents and their easy availability on the web, USF-I has posted a warning page NIPRNet computers go to first. This page simply warns the user that the website they are about to view may contain classified documents and that such documents should not be viewed, downloaded, or distributed on NIPR computers. There is a button at the bottom of this warning page that then allows the user to go to the website.
The feds have clearly lost it. Many of those soldiers receiving the warnings have security clearances that would have granted them access to the State Department cables before they were leaked. It's not the first time the military has threatened servicemembers with sanctions if the view Wikileaks documents—back in August, the Department of the Navy issued guidance warning sailors and marines against looking at the Afghanistan documents leaked by the site—but it seems to be the first time it's tried to prevent them from reading news stories about leaked documents.
Not even Social Security Administration employees are safe from the intimidation: The Administration has reportedly sent an alert to all its employees claiming that the Wikileaks documents "remain classified and SSA employees should not access, download, or transmit them. Individuals may be subject to applicable federal criminal statutes for unlawful access to or transmission of classified information."
And the State Department has—informally, it seems—been putting out word that people who write about the Wikileaks cables on Twitter or Facebook shouldn't bother applying for State Department jobs in the future. According to the Arabist, a blog on Arab culture and politics, Columbia University's career services department sent an alert to students relating a call the office got from a Columbia alumnus and State Department employee:
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.
To repeat: Do NOT make comments about Wikileaks on Twitter or mention them at all or you will be considered a security risk and never be good enough to work at the state department.
We contacted the State Department and Columbia University for comment, but haven't heard back. Likewise with the Social Security Administration.
State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson got back to us. She said that she's unaware of any State employees issuing any "directives" to any schools about what students should and shouldn't write on social networks. But would State look unfavorably upon a prospective employee who had written about the leaked cables on Facebook? "To talk about current events is one thing," she said. "Would talking about it make you ineligible for a job at the State Department? No. But to go into detail, and propagate information that was illegally obtained—I don't think that's a good move for anyone. Not Julian Assange, not Wikileaks, and not any U.S. citizen."