The State Department on Tuesday denied that it has warned students not to link to or post online comments about leaked diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website.
Spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday the department had not issued any guidelines to private citizens on how to deal with the documents, which are still considered classified. He said department employees have been told not to download the material to their classified computer systems. He said that would create security concerns.
"We have given instructions to our employees here because we are treating these documents as still classified, which means if you download these documents from an outside website to our unclassified system, it creates a security concern," Crowley told reporters.
"Our instructions are to protect our unclassified network, not mix classified and unclassified information on that network," he said. "We do not control private Internet access. We do not control private networks. We have issued no authoritative instructions to people who are not employees of the Department of State."
Crowley's comments came in response to reports that a State Department employee had warned students considering diplomacy careers at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs that linking to or discussing the documents might compromise a future security clearance.
He said the department did not know who issued the warning, but suggested it may have been an "overzealous employee" who "was not expressing a policy statement."
On Saturday, a Columbia University spokesman confirmed that the institution's Office of Career Services had sent a Nov. 30 e-mail to students in which it said an alumnus at the State Department had contacted the office to pass on the warning,
The e-mail said online discourse about the documents "would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information."