Ewen MacAskill in Washington
US department of homeland security staff are hampered in their work analysing foreign affairs because of a government ban on the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, an official has said.
“More damage will be done by keeping the federal workforce largely in the dark about what other interested parties worldwide are going to be reading and analysing,” the official said.
His comments were emailed to the respected Washington-based Federation of American Scientists, which is running a project on government secrecy. It released the email after ensuring the official remained anonymous.
The Obama administration is banning all federal staff from using government computers and other government communication devices to read the leaked diplomatic cables on WikiLeaks, saying they are still officially classified.
The official says that the ban appears to extend to personal computers too.
“At DHS (department of homeland security) we are getting regular messages [warning not to access classified records from Wikileaks],” the official said.
“It has even been suggested that if it is discovered that we have accessed a classified Wikileaks cable on our personal computers, that will be a security violation. So, my grandmother would be allowed to access the cables, but not me. This seems ludicrous.”
The official said that he has spent many years in government dealing with senior officials from foreign governments and the ban was going to create problems for lots of federal staff.
“Part of making informed judgments about what a foreign government or leader will do or think about something is based on an understanding and analysis of what information has gone into their own deliberative processes. If foreign government workers know about something in the WikiLeaks documents, which clearly originated with the US, then they will certainly (and reasonably) assume that their US counterparts will know about it too, including the staffers.
“If we don’t, they will assume that we simply do not care, are too arrogant, stupid or negligent to find and read the material, or are so unimportant that we’ve been intentionally left out of the information loop. In any such instance, senior staff will be handicapped in their preparation and in their inter-governmental relationships,” the official said.
The official added: “So far, however, this kind of thinking is not finding a receptive audience in government. There has been no sign of leadership from any administration official who would stand up and say: ‘National security classification is a means, and not an end in itself. What any reader in the world can discover is no longer a national security secret. We should not pretend otherwise.'”
Pete King, the Republican congressman who is to take over as chairman of the House homeland security committee next month, called for the prosecution of the New York Times. He was responding to a question from Fox News on whether, if Julian Assange was to be prosecuted for handling stolen goods, should the New York Times and the Guardian not also be prosecuted. King agreed they should.
King said it was not possible to stop the New York Times publishing but that did not mean they could not be prosecuted. “I think the New York Times is behaving irresponsibly and putting American lives at risk,” King said.
King is one of the few members of Congress who has been outspoken on the WikiLeaks issue.