December 3rd, 2010

Via TPM: The OMB has sent a Kafkaesque (or perhaps Hellerian) memo to the entire US Federal bureaucracy.

The OMB’s general counsel directed the agencies to immediately tell their employees to “safeguard classified information” by not accessing Wikileaks over the Internet.
Classified information, the OMB notes, “remains classified … until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. Government authority.”

The flimsy excuse is that ¨doing so risks that material still classified will be placed onto non-classified systems.” How? The risk is Assange´s email.

The usual rule is that confidences hold only so long as the content is not broadcast by a third party; because public is public. (The making of the confidence may well stay one.) An open secret is an oxymoron.

The ludicrous effort also fails to exploit one silver lining of the Wikileaks for the government, as a priceless trove of real and recent case studies for training and analysis. Federal employees should be ordered to study the Wikileaks in their areas of interest.

PS: Commenters please refrain from pointing out that Canute wasn´t an idiot, his seaside throne stunt was a rebuke to his courtiers for their servile flattery. And Grigori Potemkin was an able and effective viceroy. The historically false memes have their own life.

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9 Responses to “King Canute”

  1. Bruce Wilder says:

    The primary function of the system of classification, like all systems of official secrecy, is primarily censorship. The point of the system — and I say this, having had clearance as a government official — is to suppress open discussion, and by that means, to centralize decision-making.

    This memo merely highlights the nature of the reality. At bottom, the premise is that one can indeed own facts and keep them pure.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mbfromhb, Alltop Politics. Alltop Politics said: King Canute [...]

  3. Steve Crickmore says:

    Now our federal employees in the State Department and Pentagon are ordered, to be at a disadvantage to what the rest of the world knows about the US…great! I suppose they are still under orders to spy on other diplomats, but are are prohibited from clicking on the new WikiLeaks site, for fear of being contaminated. They are encouraged even ordered to read other diplomats’ mail but are presumably discouraged from reading <a href=""the Guardian paper as well, because it contains so many of the WiliLeaks cables. George Orwell, who wrote for the Manchester Guardian, would not be surprised at the turn of events in the US.

  4. Steve Crickmore says:

    information such as fed employees should remain ignorant of from the Guardian ‘WikiLeaks cables blame Chinese government for Google hacking leading politician ordered attacks after Googling his own name and finding critical articles, US dispatches say’

  5. Robert the Red says:

    I have a friend whose son recently left the Marines, after serving 5 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that his son walked him through some of the Wikileaks stuff to explain what he had been doing there, and it was very useful. I suppose if the son were still in the military he would be violating some classification rules.

  6. Calvin The Bold says:

    People with security clearances sign an oath to protect classified information for life. After you’ve left the military, the job, the program–whatever–you still have an obligation to keep the secrets secret. This includes not drawing attention to things that are known to the public, but are in fact classified. The Wikileaks cables fall under that umbrella. It’s really not that Orwellian, and in principle it’s about the same as saying that you can’t point out a fact that is technically classified that’s sitting in plain sight on Wikipedia. It’s no more burdensome than the fact that lots of people with security clearances can’t tell their spouses exactly what they do at work.

    As for not accessing Wikileaks: even if it’s out in the public sphere, it’s still considered mis-handled classified data. Agencies or contractors who download these documents to unclassified information systems have to treat it as a classified information leak, even though the source wasn’t their own secure networks. If you are cleared and work for a contractor or agency, this includes your own home computer if you ever use it to do work. The “by the book” response is to treat the spill exactly as though classified material pertaining to your job ended up on an unauthorized system. If you visit the Wikileaks site, you suddenly have classified data where it doesn’t belong (like your web browser cache), and voila you have a security violation that would require cleanup.

    For what it’s worth, this is how it always works. There’s no new policy just for the Wikileaks cable dump, and it’s more accurate to call these directives reminders of what the policy has been all along.

  7. Brett Bellmore says:

    I have to admit to never having encountered the meme that Grigori Potemkin was a poor administrator. Indeed, setting up the villages must have been an organizational miracle… The Canute misinterpretation is endemic, though. We need more exposure to white male literature in school, I think…

  8. Steve Crickmore says:

    Calvin the Bold, so what you are saying if you access wiKileaks site, the Guardian, Cnn, fox news, any so called ‘news organizations’ who might carry wkiLeaks marterial, you are warned you are breaking the law. That sounds Orwellian to me. This from a admistration who promised more transparency and to be fact based. How about if you chose to ignore the CIA/ Departmentof State directive to try and purloin credit card numbers, saliva or other biometric details of other diplomats, business leaders etc who came into a American embassy, I suppose you could be in the dock as well?