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Job hunters should steer clear of WikiLeaks site

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Derrick T. Dortch
Thursday, December 9, 2010; 6:38 AM

You have always had an interest in the U.S. government and the missions of the agencies that deal with national security and international affairs.

You even hope to work for the feds or serve in the military one day.

Then you find yourself - an avid reader and seeker of knowledge - face-to-face with the WikiLeaks Web site.

This rare look inside government operations could also cost you a potential security clearance.

What WikiLeaks has done is considered illegal in the United States. U.S. law says that whoever receives or obtains, or agrees or attempts to receive or obtain, from any person or any source having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document or other materials relating to the national defense, or information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

This is serious business across all government agencies and the military, where people have been ordered not to access the WikiLeaks Web site.

So what does this have to do with you, the federal job seeker? You are not working for the government, and you think accessing WikiLeaks is acceptable. But according to the government, it is not.

Although the information is in the public domain, it does not change the status of that information.

Now, given that WikiLeaks is a public site, it's unlikely that the Justice Department will go after any U.S. citizen for accessing it. But if you are trying to get a government job and designated to get a security clearance, even at the lowest levels, you may be asked during your personnel security interview if you accessed the WikiLeaks Web site and looked at any classified documents. If your answer is yes, then the road ahead may be rocky.

Here's why:

Under the Adjudication Desk Reference, a guide published by the Defense Human Resources Activity that serves as a resource to personnel security adjudicators, investigators and managers, it notes in the "Handling Protected Information" section that deliberate or negligent failure to comply with rules and regulations for protecting classified information, or for protecting other sensitive information (such as for official use only, proprietary, export-controlled or privacy information), raises doubt about an individual's trustworthiness, judgment, reliability, or willingness and ability to safeguard such information and is a serious security concern.

The ADR points out potentially disqualifying conditions, ranging from "deliberate or negligent disclosure of classified information" to "efforts to obtain or view classified or other protected information outside one's need to know."

But all hope may not be lost if you took a gander at the WikiLeaks site. There are some mitigating conditions, according to the ADR: (A) So much time has elapsed since the behavior, or it has happened so infrequently or under such unusual circumstances, that it is unlikely to recur and does not cast doubt on the individual's reliability, trustworthiness or good judgment. (B) The individual responded favorably to counseling or remedial security training and demonstrates a positive attitude toward the discharge of security responsibilities. (C) The security violations were the result of improper or inadequate training.

The average job seeker can probably make the case that this situation happened so infrequently and was the result of inadequate training on security violations, because nine out of 10 times this is true. The key thing now, however, is to probably avoid WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks has harmed the U.S. government. Don't let it harm your job-hunting efforts.

Got a question about getting hired? Post it in the comments section for this column at washingtonpost.com/fedpage, or e-mail federal jobs expert Derrick T. Dortch at federalworker@washpost.com.


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