Why Not Just Stamp 'Secret' Across the Front Page of the NY Times?

[See important UPDATE below.]
A government contractor forwards an email he received today from the Commerce Department. Its gist: just because State Department memos had been posted by Wikileaks and published in the press, that didn't mean they weren't "classified" any more, or that there wouldn't still be penalties for quoting them. Eg: "There has been a rumor that the information is no longer classified since it resides in the public domain. This is NOT true." The full memo reads:

>>To: All Commerce Employees and Contractors

Recent reports indicate that a number of government documents have been posted on the WikiLeaks website. These documents may or may not contain information that is considered National Security Information (classified information) and as such, the information is NOT authorized for downloading, viewing, printing, processing, copying, or transmitting via non-classified Government-issued computers, laptops, blackberries, or other communication devices and is not an authorized use of DOC IT equipment. Doing so would introduce potentially classified information onto our unclassified networks and represent a potential security incident.

There has been a rumor that the information is no longer classified since it resides in the public domain. This is NOT true. Executive Order 13526, Section I.1(4)(2) states "Classified Information shall not be declassified automatically as a result of any unauthorized disclosure of identical or similar information." The information was neither properly nor improperly "declassified" by the appropriate authority and requires continued classification or reclassification.

Please do not attempt to access any of the WikiLeaks documents via the WikiLeaks website or through other websites hosting those documents because these documents may contain classified information. Accessing the WikiLeaks documents will lead to sanitization of your PC to remove any potentially classified information from the system and result in possible data loss.

If you have questions regarding this broadcast or have accessed the WikiLeaks documents, please contact the DOC Computer Incident Response Team at email xxxx-@doc.gov or call (202) 482-xxxx. [JF note: address and number deleted]

This message was authorized by the Office of Secretary OSY/OCIO.<<

The reader adds: "I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. BTW, the Executive Order cited is from the Obama, not the Bush administration."

You can understand the impulse behind the memo. Sometimes organizations want to send a message that boils down to: We still intend to enforce a certain rule in the long run, even if we manifestly can't do so in this particular case. But going to the bother of pretending that people will get in trouble for quoting what's in the press? Sigh.

UPDATE: It's not just the Department of Commerce. After the jump, a memo to students and alumni of Boston University law school, warning that they could be considered unfit for security clearances, in future applications for federal jobs, if they quote or comment any of the still "classified" material from an online site.

A note today from an assistant dean at BU law school (emphasis added):

>>Dear Students and Alumni,

Today I received information about Wikileaks that I want to pass on to you. This is most relevant if you are going to apply for or have already applied for federal government positions. 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.

I have not yet heard any fallout about specific individuals, but we wanted to give you this take on the situation.

Sincerely, XXX

 Assistant Dean for Career Development and Public Service<<

This is nuts -- not the note, but the mentality that makes it seem necessary.

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James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

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