(update below)

A military defense university established by Congress has instituted a block on its computer or information systems of the Washington Post to prevent those training and working at the university from being exposed to “classified material being released.”

The “classified material” is the information disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that continues to be published by The Guardian and covered widely by press organizations from around the world.

An email was sent out by the Defense Acquisition University’s (DAU) chief information officer, Tim Hamm, on Thursday at noon.

Hamm, who is based at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the headquarters of DAU, sent the email to all branches of the university.

The subject line read, “Washington Post website blocked,” and is as follows:

DAU Chief Information Officer Tim Hamm was contacted by Firedoglake for comment at about 1 pm EST. The email asked Hamm to provide additional confirmation that the block had been instituted. It was an opportunity for him to provide further explanation for the DAU’s decision to block the website. As of 4 pm EST, there has been no reply from Hamm.

The university for the defense acquisition workforce has campus locations in: California, Maryland; Chester, Virginia; Kaiserslautern, Germany; Norfolk, Virginia, Huntsville, Alabama; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Warner Robins, Georgia; Kettering, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Rock Island, Illinois; Sterling Heights, Michigan; San Diego, California, Port Hueneme, California, Ford Island, Hawaii.

It has a College of Contract Management (CCM) in Fort Lee, Virginia and is authorizedby Congress to for the purposes of “professional educational development and training of the acquisition workforce and “research and analysis of defense acquisition policy issues from an academic perspective.” [Defense acquisition refers to how the Pentagon acquires "the design, engineering, construction, testing, deployment, sustainment, and disposal of weapons or related items purchased from a contractor."]

At all of these locations, individuals using the Internet are currently blocked from being able to access the Washington Post. And what the block may specifically be “protecting” individuals from reading is information on slides from a classified presentation on the secret surveillance program, PRISM, as the Post has published more slides in recent weeks.

The email does not indicate whether The Guardian, which has been publishing most of the documents from Snowden, was blocked or remains blocked.  However, on June 27, it was reported that the Defense Department was blocking access to The Guardian to “protect” the “integrity of unclassified government information systems.”

A memo dated June 7, 2013, advised, “Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites, disclosed to the media, or otherwise in the public domain remains classified and must be treated as such until it is declassified by an appropriate US government authority. It is the responsibility of every DoD employee and contractor to protect classified information and to follow established procedures for accessing classified information only through authorized means. Leadership must establish a vigilant command climate that underscores the critical importance of safeguarding classified material against compromise.”

The measures taken by DAU, the Defense Department and any other institution, organization or agency that has taken steps to “safeguard classified information” by blocking access to news websites are similar to the measures taken to prevent exposure to coverage of documents published by WikiLeaks in 2010.

Such action is being taken because of the culture around state secrets within the military or defense establishment. Even though information is being published and shared widely and freedom of the press under the First Amendment makes the material perfectly legal, that does not matter. What is more important is that this information is property of the NSA.

The only individuals who have a need to know this information are, to those running the university and the Pentagon, individuals cleared to access the information at the NSA. Though they have lost control of the information, it still needs to be protected.

Evidence of pervasive surveillance may, as Snowden stated today, be in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but this is insignificant to those who have been taught first and foremost to uphold secrecy around government operations, even if they might think those operations are abusive, unlawful or illegitimate.

Blocking access to news websites because those news organizations are publishing stories that reference classified information is censorship. It also is short-sighted and feeble. News organizations publish stories containing classified information all the time.

National security journalism depends upon leaks of classified information. If those in the military or defense institutions really want to “safeguard” systems, there are many more websites, which individuals should be blocked from accessing. There should be many more instances where information officers display a complete disregard for freedom of the press in the United States.

In fact, maybe there should simply be no Internet access on information systems at all.


State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren calls attention to how the State Department has its own announced procedure for employees reading what Snowden has exposed. They are not to “save, copy or print.” He notes this is a step up from what they were allowed to do with WikiLeaks documents and includes the cable sent to employees in his post.