from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 7
January 20, 2011

Secrecy News Blog:


Department of Defense employees who downloaded classified documents from Wikileaks onto unclassified government computer systems may delete them without further "sanitizing" their systems or taking any other remedial measures, the Pentagon said in a policy memo last week.

The release of classified State Department cables and other classified documents by Wikileaks has produced special consternation among security officers, who have tended to respond "by the book" to this unprecedented breach of security procedures. But "the book," which is the product of an earlier era, is quickly becoming obsolete. And in the worst case, some officials say, the government's unimaginative response to Wikileaks could do more damage than the original disclosures. ("Govt Response to Wikileaks Said to Cause More Damage," Secrecy News, December 10, 2010).

But now some tentative signs of flexibility can be detected from Pentagon policy makers.

Under the new guidance, DoD employees and contractors who have downloaded classified documents from the Wikileaks website onto an unclassified government computer or network -- which is still prohibited -- do not need to take any extreme corrective measures in response, the Pentagon said. In particular, there is no need to prepare a formal incident report or to "sanitize" their information systems by overwriting or degaussing them. Instead, the documents can simply be deleted.

"In the case of classified documents inadvertently accessed or downloaded from the WikiLeaks website or other websites posting WikiLeaks-related classified documents, the IAM [information assurance manager] will document each occurrence and delete the affected file(s) by holding down the SHIFT key while pressing the DELETE key for Windows-based systems," said Acting Under Secretary of Defense Thomas A. Ferguson in a January 11 memo.

Using the shift and delete keys simultaneously is a way of "permanently deleting" a document, so that it is removed from the file directory and does not appear in the Trash or Recycle Bin. This action does not, however, physically erase or eliminate the document from the computer's hard drive. In other cases of inadvertent transfer of classified information to an unclassified system, a more rigorous response is often required. But this will now be good enough for the purpose of eliminating classified Wikileaks documents.

"No incident report or further sanitization of government IT systems is required," Under Secretary Ferguson continued.

The new flexibility only extends to Wikileaks-related documents, not to other "spillages" of classified information, he said. "This guidance pertains only to the accessing or downloading of the classified documents described above because of the extent of the compromise and the prohibitive cost of standard sanitization procedures. All other classified spillages must be handled in accordance with existing regulations," according to the Pentagon memo.

See "Notice to DoD Employees and Contractors on Protecting Classified Information and the Integrity of Unclassified Government Information Technology (IT) Systems," memorandum for senior DoD officials from Acting Under Secretary of Defense Thomas A. Ferguson, January 11, 2011:


The Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported a notable increase in its classification activity last year, along with an even greater increase in the ODNI "population."

The number of ODNI "derivative classification decisions" -- referring to the classification of new records under previously issued guidance -- increased 7.6% to 1,762,999 from the year before, wrote ODNI Information Management Director John F. Hackett in a November 12 report. "The increase in total decisions was largely driven by population growth, which increased by 17% from last year."

A copy of the ODNI report to the Information Security Oversight Office was obtained by Secrecy News under the Freedom of Information Act. See Standard Form 311, Agency Security Classification Management Program Data for Fiscal Year 2010, November 12, 2010:

Among other interesting details, the ODNI report states that "There were two discretionary declassification decisions made by the Acting DNI during FY10 (declassification of 'QUILL' as a Radar Imager and declassification of the fact of 'GAMBIT/HEXAGON' overhead ISR missions)."


Chinese bloggers "expressed rage and despondence after learning about the plight of 12 mentally retarded men from Sichuan province who were sold into slavery to work at a building materials plant in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region," according to a CIA review of the Chinese blogosphere during the week of December 10-17, 2010.

The CIA survey portrays Chinese bloggers as alert, engaged and influential in shaping government policy.

"The controversy over the mentally retarded workers set off a passionate discussion in the blogosphere on such topics as the treatment of disabled people in society and the role officials play in allowing workers to be exploited in private enterprises."

"The public reaction resulting from the story's popularity in the blogosphere as well as in traditional media almost certainly had an effect on the quick government response," the CIA report said. A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News. See "This Week in the Chinese Blogosphere: Week Ending 17 December 2010," CIA Open Source Works, December 17, 2010:

Among several other current news stories, "Many Chinese Netizens continue to follow and comment on the legal case of founder Julian Assange," the report said.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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