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Ask the Lawyer: Caution, common sense key to keeping security clearance

Feb. 3, 2011 - 01:24PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 3, 2011 - 01:24PM  |  
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Lawyer Mathew B. Tully answers your questions

Q. I recently received my security clearance, and I'm paranoid about accidentally doing something that would put it in jeopardy. What constitutes a breach of information?

This is a hot topic with the ongoing WikiLeaks news and the recent revelation that a flash drive was used to infiltrate military computers in 2008.

The legal ramifications in regard to sensitive information generally fall into two categories of wrongdoing: stealing information with malicious intent, and risking national security by failing to adhere to policies through ignorance or irresponsibility.

Of course, the harshest penalties available under the Uniform Code of Military Justice are reserved for those who intentionally steal classified information in an attempt to distribute it elsewhere. Violations of UCMJ Articles 106 (Spies) and 106a (Espionage) can carry a maximum penalty of death.

These articles cover the transmission of various types of information including documents, code and signal books, photos, drawings, maps, blueprints and anything else that concerns sensitive information.

It's easy to understand why these offenses are treated so seriously. Protecting the U.S. was paramount long before any of the recent incidents. Now, more than ever, adherence to the procedures and policies regarding sensitive information will be scrutinized.

I've written about security clearances before, and the factors — drugs, debt, etc. — that can lead to denial or revocation. Misuse of information technology systems is among those factors.

Generally, a clearance-holder without authorization should avoid entering a computer system, modifying or deleting information, or using, removing or introducing new software or hardware.

The overriding theme is fairly straightforward: When working with sensitive materials or in a secure facility, do only what you're instructed to do, go only where you're told to go, and view only what you're asked to view.

Caution is your best bet. Beyond that, your commander will be more than willing to go over what is and isn't acceptable. Security clearances and sensitive materials leave no margin for error.

Mathew B. Tully is an Iraq war veteran and founding partner of the law firm http://www.fedattorney.com">Tully Rinckey PLLC. askthelawyer@militarytimes.com?subject=Ask%20the%20Lawyer:%20Caution,%20common%20sense%20key%20to%20keeping%20security%20clearance">E-mail him. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.

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