US Army blocks access to Guardian coverage of NSA leaks

Army soldiers on computers
Photo credit: Army.mil

Employees at Presidio of Monterey, a military base south of San Francisco, noticed they were blocked from access to The Guardian website shortly after articles broke about the National Security Agency’s data collection revealed by Edward Snowden. Some of the site was unavailable Wednesday, but other news agencies could be accessed, according to the Monterey County Herald.

The Army admitted on Thursday that the site was not only blocked to employees at Presidio, but employees throughout the Army. Gordon Van Vleet, spokesman for the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, or NETCOM, told the Herald in an email that the Army is filtering Guardian access.

“In response to your question about access to the Guardian.co.uk website, the army is filtering some access to press coverage and online content about the NSA leaks,” Van Vleet told The Guardian. “The Department of Defense routinely takes preventative ‘network hygiene’ measures to mitigate unauthorized disclosures of classified information onto Department of Defense unclassified networks.”

The concern stems from possible disclosure of classified information without authorization. Jose Campos, information assurance security officer, sent this email to employees, as reported by the Herald:

Campos wrote if an employee accidentally downloaded classified information, it would result in “labor intensive” work, such as the wipe or destruction of the computer’s hard drive.

He wrote that an employee who downloads classified information could face disciplinary action if found to have knowingly downloaded the material on an unclassified computer.

The Guardian’s website has classified documents about the NSA’s program of monitoring phone records of Verizon customers, a project called Prism which gave the agency “direct access” to data held by Google, Facebook, Apple and others, and more.

Similar measures were taken by the Army after the Guardian and other news sources published leaked information obtained via WikiLeaks. The Pentagon noted at the time that classified information residing in the public domain is still considered classified.

“We make every effort to balance the need to preserve information access with operational security, however there are strict policies and directives in place regarding protecting and handling classified information,” Van Vleet told the Guardian.

Van Vleet said the department doesn’t determine which sites personnel can choose to see on the DOD system, and that it would not block “websites from the American public in general, and to do so would violate our highest-held principle of upholding and defending the Constitution and respecting civil liberties and privacy.”

Email from NETCOM

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