Ever since WikiLeaks first entered onto the scene, I’ve been following news about the organization. At first, the releases coming out of WikiLeaks were shocking and exciting. They brought us news of civilian casualties in Iraq, and they brought us embarrassing diplomatic cables.
But what really caught my attention more than any of that was the global reaction from governments across the world, and the massive effort to create lists of Wikileaks-banned sites in order to censor anything and everything on the Internet that had any connection to WikiLeaks.
The efforts to essentially censor the Internet itself were completely ludicrous. The classified information that was leaked to WikiLeaks and eventually published to the global community was publicly released, there was no getting around it. But the reaction and activities that were undertaken by the U.S. government and its corporations were a bit odd, to say the least.
The silly behavior continues today. Just last month, the United Nations held a Paris conference on how WikiLeaks changed the media and news around the world. Apparently, the conference organizers turned down a request from WikiLeaks to attend the conference. This hatred of WikiLeaks by the world’s powerbrokers is not entirely without justification. I’m not here to argue for or against the actions of WikiLeaks. However, I am here to poke fun at efforts to censor people from reading information publicly available on the Internet.
In this article, I wanted to take a little stroll down memory lane and examine some of the silliest WikiLeaks bans that took place throughout 2009 and 2010.
5 Silliest Wikileaks Bans
I have to start off with the one example that really made me laugh the hardest when I first read about it back in 2010. According to an August Huffington Post article in August of 2010, the Pentagon decided to issue a ban to all U.S. military personnel stating that WikiLeaks was not to be viewed by staff.
The Pentagon Ban of Wikileaks
That wasn’t really the strangest part. The weird part was that the reason the Pentagon offered for this WikiLeaks banning was that even though the information was in the public domain, it still remained classified.
In one alleged email, the Navy advised employees, “In addition, personnel should not access the WikiLeaks website on government owned systems, in order to avoid a proliferation of potential electronic spillages (ES).”
The Marines even told its staff not to access WikiLeaks not only from government-owned computers, but also on public or personally owned computers. The irony is that the reason given for the ban was that the military didn’t want to proliferate classified information – but that would only make sense if the direction of information was from inside the military to the outside. In this case, the ban was an attempt to prevent information from the outside (the Internet) from proliferating back into military networks.
The entire effort was like some poorly thought-out attempt to use chewing gum to fill up holes that were opening up in the dam. It was a losing battle.
Air Force Blocks The Guardian and NY Times
As though issuing a rule not to visit WikiLeaks was not bad enough, the Air Force actually took it a step further. In a September, 2011 FOIA release issued to Jason Smathers of MuckRock, the Air Force finally released information showing that it had gone so far as to block a list of 45 banned WikiLeaks-related websites.
While it wouldn’t really be much of a surprise to see all of those “WikiLeaks” domains added to the network blacklist, it is quite surprising to see major media sites like the Guardian and the NY Times added to the blacklist simply for releasing the information being distributed from WikiLeaks.
As one other side note before I leave the topic of the U.S. military’s efforts to stop the bleeding – one anonymous DoD source told TechDirt that they had tried to access one of TechDirt’s articles covering a WikiLeaks story, and the DoD firewall blocked the site with a message that read in part, “Based on DOD access policies, access to this web site … has been blocked because the web category ‘Computers and Internet’ is not allowed…”
Library of Congress Bans Wikileaks Access
Another silly attempt to block people from reading WikiLeaks was conducted by the Library of Congress in December of 2010. On December 3rd, the LC turned on domain blocking to the site from all library computers. This meant that anyone conducting research in any one of the reading rooms across the country, wouldn’t be able to obtain copies of the recently leaked domestic cables without leaving the library and getting on the Internet somewhere else.
The directive that was issued to employees across the country explained that accessing the documents marked as “classified” on Wikileaks, “….risks that material still classified will be placed onto non-classified systems.”
It was apparent that government and military organizations really didn’t know how to handle such an unprecedented release of documents that were still marked with the “CLASSIFIED” symbol. Most organizations decided to treat the documents as still classified – which meant literally trying to restrict access to the very Internet sites that were hosting those documents – even though everyone in the world (depending on where you lived of course), could access the documents and read them. It was absolute lunacy – and it’s a lunacy that even the President himself suffered from.
President Obama Blocks Federal Employees From WikiLeaks
It’s absolutely true that President Obama, in December of 2010, issued a policy that blocked federal employees from viewing the public documents released by WikiLeaks, unless those employees had the proper security clearances.
Think about that – government employees were being told to treat the documents as though they were classified, even though their neighbors, their friends, heck even their children, could simply log onto WikiLeaks and read through the “classified” documents. How could such a policy ever be effectively enforced?
The one thing going for the President was that he at least made the banning only of the documents themselves, but did not order government agencies to actually block any website domains – and government employees were at least allowed to access news websites that covered the WikiLeaks releases. That was more than could ever be said for the military, with it’s draconian attempts to censor anything to do with WikiLeaks.
American Researchers in Antarctica Banned From WikiLeaks
The funniest story is one that I’ve saved for last. If you didn’t hear about it when it happened, you’ll love this one. In December of 2010, Gawker reported that employees of the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) received a memo reminding them that WikiLeaks documents are still “classified”, and so they still fall under the normal handling protocols for classified documents.
The memo reminded the employees – up in one of the most remote regions of the world – that “transmission, processing, storage, and/or use” of that information is prohibited.
In other words, accessing the leaked documents from WikiLeaks would be treated as though the employee had attempted to access classified information.
After issuing the memo, I’m sure that the good folks running the USAP could sleep better at night, knowing that they had protected national security by preventing the proliferation of domestic cables throughout the highly-populated Antarctic.
You never know what those penguins might do if they get their hands on the wrong information.
Did you follow along with all of the website bans and domain blocks throughout 2009 and 2010? What was your opinion – did the U.S. government and other world governments get carried away? Were they justified?
Share your opinions and thoughts in the comments section below.