“Loose Lips…” – One Perspective on Classified Material and National Security
No, I never worked for the State Department. However, for the 25 years before retiring, I worked for top tier government contractors where exposure to classified material and information security were routine—almost daily occurrences.
First, classified material was not ever transmitted via the company’s routine email network. If it was necessary to transmit or receive classified information via an email or electronic transfer, we entered a limited access (i.e., cleared personnel only) area (i.e., secure room), logged on to a cleared, secure network, and there we could exchange classified information. Note: Under special, usually prearranged conditions, an office, meeting certain security conditions, could become a temporary secure area.
There were also ways to arrange access to secure facilities when we were “on the road.” The fundamental rule was that we were expected to never compromise the security of classified (or potentially classified) information. Two people working on the same project could not discuss that project except inside a secure area. While in the cafeteria, for example, you were NOT to ask your coworker, “Did you complete that task we discussed?” referring to—even without mentioning—the classified project.
The point here is that in some sectors of industry and government, people take national security seriously. Personally, I find the careless handling of even potentially sensitive government information very worrisome—for two reasons: (1) to compromise what is supposed to be classified information can be detrimental to the security interests of the country—whether it is advanced technical data or sensitive diplomatic matters, and (2) it says something to me about the integrity of the individual(s) involved in the lax (or cavalier) handling of such information.
Incidentally, the fact that critical information is not specifically marked classified is not necessarily an excuse for not protecting what might be classified information. In our work environment, each of us knew enough about what we were working on to be able to recognize even potentially sensitive information and we were expected to treat it as such. Let me be a bit more blunt: to say “It was not marked classified” would be a poor excuse for mishandling potentially sensitive information, especially if that information was directly related to your job.
While it is possible that there is much information stored away and hidden under classifications levels that are unnecessary, or where classification is misused to hide some misdeed, it is not and was not within my authority to release or declassify any information without going through the proper security channels.