Army Base Blocked Washington Post Access

Fort Belvoir blocked its workers from accessing the Washington Post website over concerns about classified information published there.

Fort Belvoir blocked its workers from accessing the Washington Post website over concerns about classified information published there.

WaPo Federal Eye (“Fort Belvoir training school blocked access to Washington Post online“):

A training school at the Fort Belvoir Army base blocked access to The Washington Post Web site earlier this month because of an article that contained a classified slide illustrating how the National Security Agency eavesdrops on international communications.

Officials at the Defense Acquisition University implemented the restriction on July 11 and lifted it on July 13, according to DAU chief information officer Tim Hamm. The school blocked access because of “a report of a potential issue with the Washington Post website,” Hamm said.

“In accordance with standard procedures, we instituted a temporary block of the site until we could evaluate this report further and make a determination on any impact to DAU’s systems,” Hamm explained. “This block was lifted on July 13 and access to the Washington Post website was restored.”

The restriction represents the second known instance of a federal organization dissuading individuals who have direct ties to the federal government from viewing the article. Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo warning its employees that they could face administrative or legal action for opening the story if they were not authorized to view the slide.

This has become an ongoing issue, the resolution to which is not obvious. For example, most if not all of the information stolen and released into the wild by Wikileaks remains classified. Ironically, that means that those without security clearances are free to read it but those with clearances who are not read into a given program are not. Practically, that’s rather silly: once the documents have been widely disseminated, the logic of pretending otherwise is strained. But the government presumably figures that, to the extent the material is sensitive, limiting its distribution as much as possible remains worthwhile.

In the particular case at issue here, however, I’m not sure what DAU hoped to gain. The slide in question remains available at the WaPo website.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Military Affairs, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    Yes, we regularly get notices to not read something in the public domain. It gets quite absurd. On the downside, if a company wanted to, it could be used to get someone fired, as a violation of company policy.

  2. Mikey says:

    I’m an Information Systems Security Officer who would have to deal with this if it happened in my office. If you access the WaPo website and look at the slides they will probably end up in your browser cache, which means they are stored on your computer. If you look at them from your work computer connected to an unclassified government network, you’ve just created a huge security headache. The “spillage” would be reported, the computer isolated and cleaned (an arduous process in itself), other computers on the network would have to be checked, etc. It is a non-trivial commitment of people and time.

    The slide does remain available on the WaPo website, but guidance has been issued and disseminated that minimizes the potential for inadvertent viewing. So access to the website was restored.

  3. Scott says:

    @Mikey: All true. However, if I remember right, we are warned not to read it on our home computers either. Regardless, I understand the implications to non-classified networks. Not an easy topic for the IT security folks.

  4. Mikey says:

    @Scott: Yeah, we’re not supposed to look at it at work or at home. But the procedure is different if you see it on your home computer, I think it was basically “clear your browser cache and report the viewing to your security administrator” or something.