Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past year, you’ve probably caught at least some of the news about how a US Army soldier illegally downloaded thousands of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan, then passed them along to the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks. After a few weeks of drama, Wikileaks published most of these documents on their website, which set off a wave of controversy over the ethics of their actions.
Stories like this are why I read the news. I mean, you just can’t make this drama up! The story still continues to unfold even more every day, as the Army is pursuing criminal charges against the soldier responsible and the founder of Wikileaks is preparing to release even more of the classified material. My personal advice? This is very hard for a web-addict like me to say, but one of the best ways to avoid capsizing your career is to STAY AWAY FROM THE WIKILEAKS WEBSITE!
Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m as curious as the next guy, but as much as I’d like to work my Google-Fu and get a peek at some real insight into what’s going on in Afghanistan, it’s just not a good idea! Because even though all this information has been posted onto some guy’s website for all the world to see, it’s STILL CONSIDERED CLASSIFIED INFORMATION by the military.
Let’s just say, for example, that you actually did surf on in to Wikileaks to see what all the hype was about. No big deal, right? Well honestly, I doubt that any black CIA helicopters would come sweeping down to scoop you up and fly you off to Gitmo. But if you did look at these reports, you’d have improperly accessed secure information without authorization. So before you hit them interwebs, keep in mind that there are only four simple things that can automatically disqualify you from holding a security clearance, and improperly handling classified data is one of them.
While it’s true that you might never get caught, there’s always the chance that you will. I’m no tech wizard so don’t ask me how this stuff works, but I know that it’s possible for programmers to hack into a webpage and insert code which will record the IP address of anyone who views the site. Also, doing something stupid like accessing Wikileaks from a computer owned by the military or your current employer makes you vulnerable to programs like keystroke logs, which monitor and record all of your browsing activity.
Some people might get cute and ask their civilian friends to pull up the Wikileaks website on their personal computer. Well, guess what dude? These civilian friends are the people that background investigators will want to talk to when they go through an investigation for any security clearances! And even something like going to an internet café or a public library to do your surfing is a bad idea as well. If you ever get high enough up into the world of Top Secret, Secure Compartmentalized Information (TS/SCI), there’s a good chance you’ll have to pass a “Lifestyle” polygraph exam before being granted access to any data. I have no idea how many questions the examiner will ask about your previous handling of classified material, but I can guarantee that’ll be a big section of the test!
Look, I know we all love reading up on this kind of headline news, but my advice is that unless you’re a professional journalist hoping to make some headlines off of these documents, steer clear of the Wikileaks website. This is one example of how just a few minutes of curiosity can severely mess up your career. Take a minute to ask yourself what’s more important: Going online to Wikileaks to get confirmation that the war in Afghanistan has been going badly (which you probably already knew), or doing what it takes to keep that security clearance active (which will earn you much more money over the course of your career) ?