The State Department is bracing for a potentially explosive new feature on the Washington Post website that would publish the names and locations of agencies and firms conducting Top Secret work on behalf of the U.S. government, according to the copy of an email obtained by The Cable.
The Diplomatic Security Bureau at State sent out a notice Thursday to all department employees warning them to protect classified information and reject inquiries from the press when the new web feature goes live.
"The Washington Post plans to publish a website listing all agencies and contractors believed to conduct Top Secret work on behalf of the U.S. Government," the notice reads. "The website provides a graphic representation pinpointing the location of firms conducting Top Secret work, describing the type of work they perform, and identifying many facilities where such work is done."
According to the notice, the Post used only open-source information to compile its site. However, if some of that open-source information turns out to have been classified, its publication by the Post doesn't change that classification, the State Department emphasized.
"All Department personnel should remain aware of their responsibility to protect classified and other sensitive information, such as the Department's relationships with contract firms, other U.S. Government agencies, and foreign governments," the notice says.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail and said it went out to all State Department employees in the Washington, DC area, 14,574 people.
The Washington Post declined requests for comment.
Here's the full notice:
Office of Origin: DS/EX
Announcement Number: 2010_07_059
Date of Announcement: July 15, 2010
Notification of Major Media Outlet Story On Monday July 19, the Washington Post plans to publish a website listing all agencies and contractors believed to conduct Top Secret work on behalf of the U.S. Government. The website provides a graphic representation pinpointing the location of firms conducting Top Secret work, describing the type of work they perform, and identifying many facilities where such work is done.
Although the Washington Post acquired the information from open sources, all Department personnel should remain aware of their responsibility to protect classified and other sensitive information, such as the Department's relationships with contract firms, other U.S. Government agencies, and foreign governments. Employees are reminded that they must neither confirm nor deny information contained in this, or any, media publication, and that the publication of this website and supporting articles does not constitute a change to the level of classification of any information duly classified in accordance with Executive Order 13526.
In the unlikely event you are contacted for comment, please forward any request for information to the Bureau of Public Affairs, Press Relations Office at (202) 647-2492.
UPDATE: The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder publishes a related memo by Art House, the communications director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which appears to be just as worried as the State Department about the Post's reporting. Excerpt:
It might be helpful as you prepare for publication to draw up a list of accomplishments and examples of success to offer in response to inquiries to balance the coverage and add points that deserve to be mentioned. In media discussions, we will seek to garner support for the Intelligence Community and its members by offering examples of agile, integrated activity that has enhanced performance. We will want to minimize damage caused by unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and classified information.
It also describes ODNI's expections for the Washington Post series:
While we can't predict specific content, we anticipate the following themes:
The intelligence enterprise has undergone exponential growth and has become unmanageable with overlapping authorities and a heavily outsourced contractor workforce.
The IC and the DoD have wasted significant time and resources, especially in the areas of counterterrorism and counterintelligence.
The intelligence enterprise has taken its eyes off its post-9/11 mission and is spending its energy on competitive and redundant programs.
The Washington Post may run a series of three articles, the first being an overview, the second focused on the large number of contractors supporting the intelligence enterprise, and the third looking at a specific community (the Fort Meade/BWI Airport area) that has expanded in part due to Intelligence Community growth.
The Washington Post is expected to work with Public Broadcasting Service's Frontline program to add a television component to this work, and will also present an interactive web site demonstrating growth of the intelligence enterprise and inviting comment and dialogue. The Post advises that "links" between individual contractors and specific agencies have been deleted, although the Post will still cite contractors and their locations.
UPDATE #2: An administration official responds to The Cable to comment on the Post series, which the administration is portraying as less than meets the eye.
"A lot of this is explainable. You want some redundancy in the Intelligence Community and you're going to have some waste. These are things we've been aware of and in some instances we agree are troubling. However, it's something we've been working on for a year and a half. It's something we've been on top of," the official said.
"There was a need for urgent expansion after 9/11 and there was a need for an expansion of contractors to fill analyst positions. There will be examples of money being wasted in the series that seem egregious and we are just as offended as the readers by those examples."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.