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 and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

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


  • IT Modernization
    Eisenhower Executive Office Building (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

    OMB's user guide to the MGT Act

    The Office of Management and Budget is working on a rules-of-the-road document to cover how agencies can seek and use funds under the MGT Act.

  • global network (Pushish Images/

    As others see us -- a few surprises

    A recent dinner with civil servants from Asia delivered some interesting insights, Steve Kelman writes.

  • FCW Perspectives
    cloud (Singkham/

    A smarter approach to cloud

    Advances in cloud technology are shifting the focus toward choosing the right tool for the job and crafting solutions that truly modernize systems.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.