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Air Force bans access to sites of newspapers posting WikiLeaks documents

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force has banned access from its computers to the websites of The New York Times and more than two dozen other press organizations that have posted classified documents provided by WikiLeaks.

“We’re looking out for the safeguarding of our systems,” said Lt. Col Jack Miller, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon.

The entire websites of major international newspapers, including London’s The Guardian  and Germany’s Der Spiegel, fall under the ban. But, Miller said, the Air Force is only blocking websites that have posted full classified documents, not news sites that only report about WikiLeaks or include excerpts in their stories.

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Miller gave two reasons for the ban — to control access to classified information, and to protect Air Force networks.

The 24th Air Force, which is also called Air Forces Cyber and is responsible for computer security, is required to keep the service’s unclassified systems free of classified information, Miller said. Computers operating on unclassified networks that access classified information must be “sanitized,” he said, costing as much as $7,000 each.

“Because classified information is out there, [it] doesn’t automatically become declassified as a result,” Miller said.

But Miller was unsure how accessing classified documents already widely available to the general public made the government’s unclassified computers more vulnerable.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported its spokeswoman, Danielle Rhoades Ha, saying, “It is unfortunate that the U.S. Air Force has chosen not to allow its personnel access to information that virtually everyone else in the world can access.”

The Air Force ban was enacted independently. The Army and Navy have delivered no such edicts, and the Pentagon has issued no broad directives.

“It’s not DOD directed,” said Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan, “and whether that blocking action continues remains to be seen.”

WikiLeaks, an organization promoting transparency in government, has angered the Obama administration by publishing hundreds of thousands of classified documents this year, dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as U.S. relations with other governments.

Already, government employees — including Stars and Stripes employees — have been advised not to access classified information from their government or personal computers.

Citing a White House executive order issued last month, the DOD office overseeing Stars and Stripes, Defense Media Activity, issued a Dec. 10 memo advising all employees and contractors from accessing websites that post classified or sensitive information from their government-owned and personal computers. 

“Access to classified national security information requires the proper clearance and the ‘need to know,’” the memo stated. “Sensitive government information in its various forms requires a ‘need to know’ and, though not classified, is safeguarded with measures beyond that of publicly available information. DMA personnel, in most cases, do not have a “need to know” and/or do not possess the proper clearance to view much of the leaked information.”

baronk@stripes.osd.mil

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