Over the weekend, a few stories began cropping up that purported U.S. Air Force members were being told not to read reports about the NSA spy program leak, which broke late last Wednesday and has been becoming more detailed since.
It turns out that these military members are not being told that they can’t view reports on the controversial program in general, but they are being told not to view them through the Air Force NIPRNET (Non-classified Internet Protocol Router Network).
Shane Vander Hart with the blog Caffeinated Thoughts reported receiving an email from the mother a service member stationed in the Middle East telling her he and other airmen received a notice that prohibited them from searching for news stories regarding the NSA spy program as they could contain potentially classified documents and information.
Here’s what was allegedly sent in an email to the airmen and passed to Vander Hart:
I wanted to make sure that all of you read this because just doing a simple search could jeopardize your future. In summary, anything to do with the recent news about the NSA and Verizon phone records are considered classified and searching news or records about these on our NIPRNET computers is unauthorized. Thanks!
The notice allegedly from the 624th Operations Center, which was posted by Caffeinated Thoughts, states:
Executive Summary: Similar to events associated with WIKILEAKS disclosures in the past 2 years, classified documents associated with a news story on NSA and wiretapping are potentially classified and readily available on the internet. Users are not to use AF NIPRNET systems to access the Verizon phone records collection and other related news stories because the action could constitute a Classified Message Incident.
Details: Classified documents regarding Verizon phone record collection and court order have been identified as being hosted on publically [sic] accessible Internet Web Sites, most notably “The Guardian” news site. Viewing and/or downloading these documents on Air Force NIPRNET computers could constitute a Classified Message Incident. Therefore, users are not to access these file (sic) for any reason (i.e. viewing, downloading, forwarding, etc.)
WND spoke with Cindy McGee, the mother of an airman stationed in the United Arab Emirates, who said she considers this censorship.
“I am outraged that our government is attempting to censor the information from our military that every citizen in this country is potentially being targeted by our government in a massive overreach of their constitutional powers by unconstitutional surveillance of all Americans and storage of that data,” McGee told WND.
According to an information system’s user agreement, NIPRNET and the Internet are “ viewed by the USAF are synonymous.” The user agreement also states that “minimal security exists on this system” and that it is “approved to process UNCLASSIFIED information.”
Thus, the notice is advising the airmen to avoid seeking out such stories that might have classified information embedded in them because their system is only for unclassified information, as stated above. Viewing an article with classified information attached could be considered a breach of their user agreement.
And sure enough, a 2011 article posted on an official Air Force website details how serious the government has taken “Classified Message Incidents” (CMIs) in the past:
Commentary by Dr. Edward Coufal
31st Fighter Wing chief of information protection
6/8/2011 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – A classified message incident is when classified material or information is sent through e-mail over an unsecured work center computer such as the one I am using to write this article. A CMI is a foundational break down in our ability to protect classified information and results in a loss of man-hours, money and time. We as a team must focus on preventing these costly incidents and ensure everyone has a broader understanding of the CMI process and how we can prevent them.
Causes of CMIs are numerous and highlight poor classified protection practices. Computer users can prevent CMIs by not transmitting sensitive to classified material through normal e-mail and instead use secure means such as secret internet protocol router network, commonly referred to as SIPRNet. Information Protection practices are aimed at preventing the transmission of classified material through e-mail. E-mail users must take the time to consider material classification being written on their desktop or laptop before sending. Poor classified protection practices can be eliminated by slowing down. Always determine classification of material you are working with and never send classified via unsecured means.
If the memo that started much of the concern is true, technically some airmen are being told not to view the stories. But context, here, is important: It seems it’s part of a larger goal to ensure military members are not viewing classified documents on an unsecured networks, even if those documents have leaked to the public.
TheBlaze has reached out to the email associated with the notice for further clarification but has not yet received a response.