Air Force rethinks WikiLeaks warning to military families

After threatening prosecution, service yanks urgent guidance from website

The Air Force Materiel Command's Public Affairs office is being fickle about recently issued WikiLeaks guidance that warned against military family members accessing the infamous website. It made military personnel responsible for monitoring the activity of family members or face prosecution.

Perhaps having second thoughts about the Big Brother-like mandate, the command took the guidance back four days later, pulling it from its website and issuing another statement. The original guidance could still be accessed via other sites today.

According to original guidance issued by command's legal office and obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, Air Force members — military and civilian — may not legally access WikiLeaks at home on their personal, nongovernmental computers. But the warning went further, warning that even family members of Air Force personnel could be in serious legal trouble for looking at WikiLeaks material.


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"If a family member of an Air Force employee accesses WikiLeaks on a home computer, the family member may be subject to prosecution for espionage under U.S. Code Title 18 Section 793," the guidance stated. "The Air Force member would have an obligation to safeguard the information under the general guidance to safeguard classified information."

The reasoning was that WikiLeaks information should be treated like any other content assumed to be classified .

The original posting drew criticism. According to Wired's "Danger Room" blog, William Bosanko, director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at the National Archives and Records Administration, said of the guidance, “That has to be one of the worst policy/legal interpretations I have seen in my entire career.”

Four days later, the Air Force removed the guidance. Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Johnson provided this statement on the evening of Feb. 7, reports the Federation of American Scientists:

Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) recently published an internal news story that discussed the implications of downloading presumed classified information from WikiLeaks. The release was not previously coordinated with Headquarters Air Force and has been removed from the AFMC website.

The Air Force has provided guidance to military members and employees to avoid downloading what could be classified information into Air Force unclassified networks and reminded them that publication of information does not itself constitute declassification of such information.

The Air Force guidance did not address family members who are not Air Force members or employees. The Air Force defers to the Department of Justice in all non-military matters related to WikiLeaks.

ISOO is responsible to the president for policy and oversight of the governmentwide security classification system and the National Industrial Security Program.

Reader Comments

Mon, Feb 14, 2011

Has anyone experienced a problem accessing this specific article on the .mil network? It's blocked at work.

Mon, Feb 14, 2011 charlie

Good afternoon the writer of the article failed to include an essential element when writing this guidance. It would apply to the family if they had access to the computer which also had the Common Access Card (CAC) reader installed. With that addition the service member can remotely access his email and common drives within the unclassified AF network. If an item was downloaded in the computer...the CAC link makes that computer because of accessibility to the network..PART of the network and the incident becomes a security issue. So without the mention of the CAC reader in the guidance it doesn't make sense at all...However, with it.....real serious problems for the service member.

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