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State Dept: Reading WikiLeaks Will Endanger Your Job

The U.S. State Department is reportedly threatening to deny some bloggers and social media users security clearances. Job applicants who have posted links or references to WikiLeaks on Facebook, Twitter or their personal blogs may have their all-important security clearances denied. Potential job applicants have been warned not to make any online references to—or even to read—WikiLeaks.

Why? Because despite being leaked, WikiLeaks' 200,000+ secret diplomatic cables still remain secret at various levels of clearance.

Some universities have warned students that posting WikiLeaks-related information online could endanger their federal security clearances. Legal website received a forwarded email warning off potential WikiBloggers from a tipster at the Boston University School of Law:

Two big factors in hiring for many federal government positions are determining if the applicants have good judgment and if they know how to deal with confidential/classified information. The documents released by Wikileaks remain classified; thus, reading them, passing them on, commenting on them may be seen as a violation of Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information. See Section 5.5 (Sanctions).

For many federal government jobs, applicants must obtain security clearances. There are various levels of security checks, but all federal positions require background checks. As part of such checks, social media may be researched to see what you are up to, so DO NOT post links to the documents or make comments on any social media sites. Moreover, polygraphs are conducted for the highest levels of security clearance.

Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now! television program quoted from a similar email sent out by Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs that claimed it was directly inspired by a State Department contact. A transcript of the same email also made its way onto job-hunting blog WiseBread.

Executive Order 13526 was implemented by President Obama in 2009 and deals with the classification, safeguarding and taxonomy of secret information. Those Section 5.5 sanctions include "reprimand, suspension without pay, removal, termination of classification authority, [and] loss or denial of access to classified information." That means losing a federal security clearance, which is required for the vast majority of State Department jobs.

Obtaining a federal security clearance is a complicated, rigorous and stressful process. Applicants are asked blunt questions about subjects including family background, financial history, housing history, educational background, religion, friends, sexuality, drug or alcohol use, political affiliations, and a host of other topics.

That is followed by detailed investigations into the subject's background, believed to include examinations of their social media footprint.

The State Department's decision coincides with a larger government push to threaten WikiLeaks readers/comments/bloggers with sanctions. Massive government contractor Raytheon has forbidden employees to read WikiLeaks on their personal computers. The agency for International Development (USAID) has forbidden employees from "retransmitting" WikiLeaks information in any fashion. The White House Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Defense and the Library of Congress all enacted anti-WikiLeaks regulations of their own.

The 200,000+ leaked diplomatic cables were exposed by State Department employees with proper security clearances. Having been burned already, the federal government is entering self-protection mode. This approach may turn thousands of bright, dedicated and patriotic potential civil servants into collateral damage of the war on WikiLeaks.

[Image by Andrew Hur]