By SPENCER E. ANTE And JULIAN E. BARNES
The U.S. Air Force is blocking its personnel from using work computers to view the websites of the New York Times and other major publications that have posted classified diplomatic cables, people familiar with the matter said.
Air Force users who try to view the websites of the New York Times, Britain’s Guardian, Spain’s El Pais, France’s Le Monde or German magazine Der Spiegel instead get a page that says, “ACCESS DENIED. Internet Usage is Logged & Monitored,” according to a screen shot reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The notice warns that anyone who accesses unauthorized sites from military computers could be punished.
The Air Force said it had blocked more than 25 websites that contained the documents, originally obtained by the website WikiLeaks and published starting late last month, in order to keep classified material off unclassified computer systems.
Major Toni Tones, a spokeswoman for Air Force Space Command, wouldn’t name the websites but said they might include media sites. Removing such material after it ends up on a computer could require “unnecessary time and resources,” Major Tones said.
“It is unfortunate that the U.S. Air Force has chosen not to allow its personnel access to the most important news, analysis and commentary,” a New York Times spokeswoman said.
The other publications couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The move was ordered by the 24th Air Force, which is responsible for maintaining Air Force computer networks. The Army, Navy and Marines aren’t blocking the sites, and the Defense Department hasn’t told the services to do so, according to spokespeople for the services and the Pentagon.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense has issued guidance against visiting WikiLeaks or downloading documents posted there, according to defense officials. The Air Force told its own personnel in August to avoid those actions. Service commanders have authority to go beyond Pentagon guidance and issue orders to protect classified information.
One senior defense official questioned the wisdom of blocking the newspaper sites or even prohibiting service members from visiting them on military computers, arguing that the information has spread on the Internet and that sites like the New York Times contain other, useful information. The defense official said blocking the New York Times was a misinterpretation of military guidance to avoid visiting websites that post classified material.
The new order doesn’t prevent Air Force personnel from viewing the media websites on nonmilitary computers, one Air Force official said. The block can also be lifted if accessing one of the news sites is essential to a person’s job, according to the screen shot.