Information Security

Contractors clamp down on Snowden material

Image of Classified Key

The federal contracting community appears to be taking a hard line on employees viewing classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

An analyst at one of the largest federal IT contractors told FCW that he and others were instructed by their employer not to examine leaked documents or read news accounts based on those documents while working. The analyst said employees were also instructed not to speak with the media about Snowden or other intelligence community topics.

A Defense Department contractor told FCW that after the Snowden material hit the press, his employer called a series of meetings to inform employees with access to classified information not to read about the leaked information or discuss it.

The DOD filters content viewable on unclassified networks to block classified materials such as the PowerPoint slides of the NSA's PRISM program published by the Guardian and the Washington Post. But the federal government seems less concerned with trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube in the wake of the Snowden disclosures than in similar situations in the past.

The Office of Management and Budget has not repeated the strict line it took in 2010 when Wikileaks published a trove of unredacted diplomatic cables. In a memo to general counsels at agencies, then-OMB Director Jack Lew wrote that "classified information, whether or not already posted on public Web sites or disclosed to the media, remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors, until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. government authority." Some agencies even suggested to employees that they could be violating the terms of their employment by viewing classified materials on their home computers.

Steven Aftergood, who tracks government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, said he is not aware of any new written directives from OMB or elsewhere in government. The Wikileaks guidance remains in effect, which asks government employees and contractors to avoid viewing classified documents on unclassified systems.

Intelligence officials are not optimistic about their ability to keep contractors from reading documents that bear directly on their bottom line, such as details of the $52.6 billion in intelligence spending for fiscal year 2013 published by the Washington Post in August. In a recent speech to intelligence community contractors, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper joked that the Congressional justification books for his agency are "now familiar to many of you."

About the Authors

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Wed, Sep 18, 2013 Chuck the Wise

The tough part of this is you can hold people accountable for exposing it, but not for looking at something put in front of them.

Wed, Sep 18, 2013 AlRetd

I remember posters in the office that stated "Just Because It's Published Does Not Mean It's Unclassfied". That was back in 1980.

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