State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects

State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects

Summary: An email from the State Department warns students not to discuss or post Wikileaks documents on social networks warning that it could seriously hamper if not kill their careers in federal government.


An official from the State Department passed onto politics students at Columbia University cautioned them not to discuss, talk about or post Wikileaks materials on Facebook and Twitter. The warning said that it could seriously hamper if not kill their careers in federal government and the civil service.

The email, as reported by the Huffington Post and the New York Times recommends that students "do not post links to these [Wikileaks] documents nor make comments on social media sites", as it could "call into question your ability to deal with confidential information".

The documents though released into the public domain through unauthorised means are still considered confidential and classified. Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs sent out the email to students warning the dangers that could affect for their future careers, and urged them to consider their actions.

However, this infringes upon two very important principles that not only citizens innately in freedom of speech, but for students in their ability to study under academic freedom.

The ability to access materials and potentially controversial content in the academic setting for the sole purpose of learning is the right and lifeblood of the university and college environment. Academic freedom is one of the most important, sacred rights that higher educational institutions possess.

One prominent example includes Rizwaan Sabir, a postgraduate student at the University of Nottingham, who was arrested and detained for over a week under the UK Terrorism Act. He allegedly accessed "illegal documents" of an al-Qaida training manual which was accessible from a US government website as part of his academic research.

To restrict of all else politics and international relations and affairs students from researching and understanding the inner, hands-on content of the role of the diplomat, as well as the nature of the communiques and the issues governments face on an international level is downright wrong. Universities should embrace the release of the cables as a rare access point for knowledge of the inner-governmental diplomatic workings to allow students to study the role of the diplomat and federal government roles.

But also this forces the student of any discipline or sector to consider their roles on social networks, as the content they publish could have serious knock-on effects to their careers.

On the other hand, whether the email advice could apply to countries other than the United States, it is not clear. I do know however that if it did; I personally could be at risk. My undergraduate dissertation focuses on the threat to national security versus the public interest in direct relation to the Wikileaks release; so if anything, I'm capitalising on the fact these leaks happen.

Do you think discussing Wikileaks should hamper your career prospects? Apply within.

Topics: IT Employment, Government

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  • And this is right and proper ...

    Before you wallow in indignation, keep in mind that one of the skills the State Department needs of its personnel is the ability to obey simple orders. Orders that they don't necessarily like or understand, about what they can and cannot say, write, and do.

    It doesn't even matter what the subject is; what matters is that when the ones in authority tell you not to do something, a good diplomat (or a good soldier) simply doesn't do it.

    Anyone who demonstrates that he/she can't muster the self-discipline to obey simple rules before entering the diplomatic service is unlikely to acquire such discipline after entering. For that reason you just don't want such people in.

    Crude but basic and vital.
    • An interesting point of view from a person unfamiliar with "1984'

      To refresh younger minds, Wikipedia begins it's 1984 reference with this paragraph.
      "...Nineteen Eighty-Four (sometimes written 1984) is a 1949 dystopian novel by George Orwell about an oligarchical, collectivist society. Life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control. The individual is always subordinated to the state, and it is in part this philosophy which allows the Party to manipulate and control humanity. In the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue, in Newspeak), protagonist Winston Smith is a civil servant responsible for perpetuating the Party's propaganda by revising historical records to render the Party omniscient and always correct, yet his meagre existence disillusions him to the point of seeking rebellion against Big Brother, eventually leading to his arrest, torture, and reconversion."

      So what are some "talking points" pertaining to this particular Zack Whittaker blog and an old "outdated" work of fiction.

      Is the United States Government currently at war?
      Is the United States Government exercising pervasive government surveilance?
      Is the United States Government attempting to restrict public opinion which is different from a stated government policy?

      I've lived 57 years as a citizen of a great democratic country. However, I was born in the midst of the Korean "War", lived thru Vietnam, The "Cold War", the Serb War, The Gulf War and now the Afghan "War". (I've left out numerous regional "armed conflicts".) Have I lived in a state of "perpetual war"? I could make an argument that this has been my experience in life so far as a U.S. citizen. (Certainly, I have not experienced bombs falling on my neighborhood in my lifetime. But you see my point.)

      Do I live in a state of pervasive government surveillance? Certainly I don't live in Zack's society that agrees to have video surveillance camera's on every metropolitan street corner. (Yeah, I know, but London is almost at that point.) Still, I understand that my credit history, cell phone where-abouts, any email and social network submitted information is "public knowledge" today. One could even make the statement that with the US Government "Echelon" program in place, Government surveillance of my personal activities has reached an "all time high". (Yup .. if I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear. I heard that line from the Ministry of Truth" before.)

      And now, a person has stated that it is "right and proper" for a Government to deny work or a livelihood to one of it's citizens because that citizen discussed .. by definition .. information that is in the public domain.

      I suppose that this hypothetical citizen denied a livelihood via a Government .. his Government, don't forget .. could be accused of a "Thought crime" for that's all that occurred in this example. Thoughts voiced on a public bit of information.

      Truly we live in "interesting" times.
      • If you do not like it, then do not look for work

        in the state department.
        They are not saying that they will stop you from looking for employment elsewhere, just that the government will not hire you, which as an employer, has that right.

        Many people have been hired for jobs, only to have them steal from the employer. A prospective employer has the right to pass up the person for employment based on a criminal record.
        Tim Cook
      • I don't know about "right and proper"


        But it is a fact that if Zack wants to work for the government in his future life that his past and his online activities will be scrutinized in ways that will hardly seem fair. The cost of being able to broadcast your ideas and thoughts to the world is that at some point down the road someone with the power to deny you something might just look up what you said about them.
      • RE: State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects


        I sincerely doubt that my post betrays anything like ignorance of literary works such as "1984" by George Orwell.

        I am convinced however that Kenosha777's post betrays a deep and serious misunderstanding about the needs and realities of diplomacy.

        First and foremost, diplomatic personnel represent their country rather than themselves and should conduct themselves accordingly. Such demands are in place for several reasons, the first one being that youthful indiscretions about sensitive subjects may make such personnel vulnerable to pressure later on in their career. Pressure from the very nation-states we send them to represent us to.

        If that still isn't explicit enough, consider this: how would you like an embassy secretary, let alone an envoy, to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or France to be confronted with the saucy remarks they made in the past on the subject of Russia's mafia-hood, Pakistani unreliability versus Islamic extremists (like the Taliban), Saudi adhortations to go and bomb Iran, or the stature and temper of France's head of state?

        Remarks that the host nation might very well seize upon to discredit said individual, and more to the point, the entire US diplomatic representation to their country? What would that mean to the interests they represent (those of the US)? And, not unimportantly, to their own career?

        Would you really want people that represent the US to be in a position where pressure of this kind can be brought to bear on them?

        Dealing with nation states is just as full of gossip, petty manoeuvering, and dirty tricks as the schoolyard or the board room. And twice as vicious. The best way not to invite nasty pressure on personal weaknesses is not to have them. No drugs use, no adultery, no law-breaking, no membership of extremist political movements, and no public statements that can make you vulnerable. Have you even thought about that?

        If not, then lets hear no more about "1984" and "thoughtcrime" where it concerns people who, rather than staying safely on US soil would put themselves forward for a career representing their country.
    • RE: State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects


      Aaaah the Nuremburg defense.

      You were just following orders huh?

      Anyone who demonstrates that they can't think for themselves and is willing to compromise ethics and morality, shouldn't be allowed in the State Department.
    • RE: State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects

      If you truly feel our government should have that level of control at the "student" level I invite you to move to an area where this does routinely occur - Mainland China.

      Pack your bags and enjoy.
    • Unfortunately "Thoughcrimes" are very much in the news today, "Golodh2


      More than one news agency (CNN, FoxNews, ect) have reported that the White House has forbidden federal employees from reading the WikiLeaks documents.

      But we were discussing diplomacy, student activities, future career opportunities, secrets and government representation of our national interests.

      After reading your well thought out and stated rebuttal to my original posting, I would like to respond. All your points are valid, of course .. from your observations that individuals should represent their country rather than themselves to gossip, petty maneuvering and dirty tricks being part of any country's State Department environment.

      But what you discuss, although deeply important, is something that is a huge step removed from a university environment where exchange of beliefs are encouraged. Where open discussions .. such as the one we are having now on a ZDNet talkback section .. are used to arrive at a greater understanding of a topic. Discussions designed to grow a deeper intellectual growth awareness ideally resulting in a person able to deal with more mature and responsible matters.

      If you pardon my assumption but I believe you would have no problem with countering accusations that in your past, you publicly discussed Saudi suggestions that the US should bomb Iran with one Kenosha7777. (Although you really should not have read those Wiki documents or snippets from them, you know. Its a good thing your not a Federal employee. You could forfeit your job or future promotional opportunities otherwise.)

      But then, what makes you think a student well qualified to represent his country should be denied an employment opportunity in the State Department for doing the same? Ah, but you said "saucy" didn't you. If presented with that argument, one could also cite "student naivety" and then following that statement up with something along the lines that the current Government policy is a well thought out and morally correct position than the one expressed during "a student's university days". Simple.

      But here comes the "not so simple accusation". How do you screen potential State Department employees based upon prior public statements. When you speak of the consequences resulting from potential pressure applied to individuals, you sound almost like a recruiter for the CIA. The ability to keep secrets and to withstand any form of pressure are admirable qualities. However, they are not the prime requirements for being a State Department employee or a professional diplomate, for that matter. I should think professional conduct, projecting moral values and encouraging the idealistic beliefs that this country was founded upon rate just as high .. if not higher. Indeed, adhering to those traits would almost guarantee a person's ability to keep secrets.

      No .. I understand the art of diplomacy better than you give me credit for. I also understand history perhaps a little better than you do. As I stated in a previous post, I have a deep appreciation of the evils "McCarthyism", "Fear" and "Black Lists" can wreck upon a nation's psyche. I would not like to see any student "black listed" because "someone" determined his past online statements were contrary to Government doctrine .. in this particular case .. these leaked State Department documents available in the open public domain. And how can a person have an intelligent discussion of important topics if one hasn't read material pertinent to that topic? Better that you or I have that discussion rather than the future leaders of our country during their University years, eh!
      • RE: State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects


        I believe we can fruitfully split the issue into three parts:

        (1) how likely is it to be a liability for future diplomats to go on (electronic) record discussing the substance of diplomatic cables published through Wikileaks?

        (2) How likely is it to be a liability for future diplomats if they discuss the cables in ways that aren't likely to go on record?

        (3) Is the State Department justified in warning students not to post on the Internet about the issue on pain of suffering the consequences when applying for a position?

        Ad (1): I believe I have argued in my previous post that going on public record on a sensitive issue like this is risky for a future diplomat. The environment they are about to enter is an unforgiving one, and the line between an innocuous and a harmful comment can be a subtle one. Even worse, that line can shift. There is no knowing what choice of words, or what tone of comment might later be seized upon by someone with less than friendly intentions.

        If an additional, and more down-to-earth, example is needed, just consider the opinion voiced by certain GOP members, starting with those of one Mrs. Palin, S., who used fairly strong language on the subject. You may recall that one of her public pronunciamentos was that sen. Obama was "Palling with Terrorists". Do you really believe that someone with that set of opinions will take a neutral or conciliatory view of something unfortunate people wrote as a student when they come up before a review board? I certainly don't.

        Ad (2) I see no reason why students shouldn't discuss the Wikileaks cables, provided they do so off the record. They have more than enough opportunities to do so in class, in the common rooms, or in their dormitories. That's where they can speak freely and have the full defense of "youthful naivete". Besides which, people have a natural tendency to weigh words they speak in public much more carefully than the ones they do in private, or (treacherously enough) in the privacy of their room when posting on the Internet.

        Ad (3) I believe that, in view of point (2) the State Department's note is actually helpful to students, especially the more naive ones and the ones lacking (at this point in time) a serviceable political antenna. Someone who might not understand why it's a bad idea to post about sensitive cables if they are considering to apply for a position in the State Department can at least be expected to understand the meaning of the words "Be warned, posting in this matter might harm your career".

        And I stand by my earlier position that anyone who still doesn't get it after that warning doesn't belong in the State Department.
    • RE: State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects


      Crap, if this described our military, we'd still be charging German machine gun emplacements in Italy, today. No, wait, if Einstein just did what he was told, he'd have stayed in Germany and they'd have had the bomb. Hell, this grossly flawed line of logic tracks back indefinitely. Ultimately, the first organism that does something completely stupid just because it was told to, fails to survive to reproduction. The end.
    • RE: State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects

      @Golodh2 "keep in mind that one of the skills the State Department needs of its personnel is the ability to obey simple orders"

      Even if I were to accept this line of reasoning, note that "the warning said that [acknowledging the existence of Wikileaks] could seriously hamper if not kill their careers in federal government and the civil service."

      What is your justification for hampering or killing the careers of people who have shown an interest in Wikileaks and who would like to work for a branch of government other than the State Department?
  • RE: State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects

    One of the benefits of being an American citizen and one of the reasons I gave a number of years in service to my country are the freedoms I and others enjoy.
    When I see such blatantly idiotic messages such as this I want to chuck the issuing individual out of this country - I don't care what position they hold or power they think they have. and to tell this to students?
    • Whatever you or I think of the guy who sent it


      Doesn't matter. Do you think he is telling something that is untrue? That the government won't in fact be looking at his past online blogs when deciding from amongst the multitudes of job candidates who is more worthy. Posting on Facebook certain things about your employer can get you fired. That is a fact.
      • "Doesn't Matter"??


        This example illustrates a Government policy that is SO similar to the infamous "Black Lists" of the McCarthy era. Our poor hypothetical job applicant posts a statement .. ANY statement .. deemed detrimental .. by "someone". He gets refused a position for a Government job. That person then seeks employment somewhere else. However, his government job rejection is now "public knowledge" or, worse yet, is listed on some computer database. His next employer looks at this database and realizes that this poor unemployed job applicant was deemed "unworthy of government trust". Based on that, he gets rejected for this second job. And so on.

        Can't happen? It already did and I really would not like to relive the McCarthy era all over again.
      • No it doesn't


        The guy passing on this warning to students is doing so factually, and probably doing them a favor so they won't be surprised later in life. That you or I don't like to hear what he is saying amounts to nothing.
  • Hey, welcome to REALITY.

    <i>"However, this infringes upon two very important principles that not only citizens innately in freedom of speech, but for students in their ability to study under academic freedom.<br><br>The ability to access materials and potentially controversial content in the academic setting for the sole purpose of learning is the right and lifeblood of the university and college environment. Academic freedom is one of the most important, sacred rights that higher educational institutions possess."</i><br><br>Hey! Welcome to REALITY! If you were hiring someone to be a drug abuse counselor, would you hire someone who had posted loads of pro-drug-use comments in all sorts of public places--even if they subsequently changed their mind?<br><br>Let's consider for a minute UFO research. In the late 1960's the Air Force was looking to be done with UFO's, so they gave a research grant to Dr. Edward Condon.<br><br>As Wikipedia notes (<a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"></a></a></a></a></a>) "On August 9, 1966, [Assistant Dean Robert T.] Low wrote a memorandum intended to persuade the more reluctant faculty to accept the UFO project. This so-called "Trick Memo" explained how the University could perform the project without risking their reputation, and how the University UFO research project <u>could arrive at a predetermined conclusion while appearing objective.</u> In part, Low wrote:<br><br><i>"Our study would be conducted almost entirely by non-believers who, though they couldn't possibly prove a negative result, could and probably would add an impressive body of thick evidence that there is no reality to the observations. The trick would be, I think, to describe the project so that, to the public, it would appear a totally objective study but, to the scientific community, would present the image of a group of non-believers trying their best to be objective but having an almost zero expectation of finding a saucer."</i><br><br>In discussing the Committee's choice of researchers, renowned UFO researchers J. Allen Hynek ( Jacques Valle ( said regarding Carl Sagan, "Sagan is an assistant professor of astronomy at Harvard. He knows full well that if he wants to ever become a full professor he'll have to find no evidence for UFO's."<br><br>The same applies to religion, societal effects of marijuana, gay marriage, climate change, effects of pollution, and a host of other social issues--employers aren't interested in hiring someone who lacks basic discretion. As George Carlin says, "If you ever hope to have a job more than flipping burgers at MacDonalds, forget about getting loads of tattoos."<br><br>Frankly, I'm glad someone had the foresight, courage and honesty to warn the students. Most people college age and below don't think about their "digital footprint" until it's too late to do anything about it. It's a lousy thing to make one comment, possibly even off the cuff or in jest and have years of hard work ruined in an instant. (Consider CNN's Rick Sanchez, for instance.)<br><br>And it's even worse when that comment occurred before or during initial education. Someone who is in a field and has not achieved public renown can probably just relocate or move to a related field ("transferable skills"). But someone who has spent 4-6 years getting a Bachelor's or even a Masters and then has to <b><i>switch</i></b> to a new area requiring new education will be branded a "professional student" or an "ivory tower academic" who can't deal with the real world and on <b><i>those</i></b> grounds won't be considered.
    • RE: State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects

      @Rick_R Yes educate them early, don't question your leaders be good little automatons.

      Wikileaks is a CIA psyop.
      • &quot;don't question your leaders&quot;

        @cyberslammer2, you do realize that he said to do no such thing. He did say to be careful of your digital footprint, and be prepaired for the ramifications should you decide to "throw caution to the winds". I can only assume that you post under the name "cyberslammer" as you do not wish your real name and address attached to your posts (as I do not believe your parents named you cyberslammer).

        What these people are being told is that you are free to do and read anything you wish to, but understand that you may be passed up for a job by doing so.

        Do you freely pst negative comments about your superiors on social networking sites, for then to read, or have you decided, for the future of your employment to "not question your leaders"

        Tim Cook
      • RE: State Dept: Discuss Wikileaks, risk your career prospects

        @Mister Spock I don't question my superiors on social sites, I do it to their faces.
  • Good looks like I'll keep posting info

    Last thing I want is to be some overpaid government seat warmer brainwashed to give up their basic rights as a US citizen.