The Defense Department appears to have pulled back from what some considered a draconian -- and counterproductive -- response to employees who had accessed classified documents released by the secret-spilling website. In a memo released last week, Thomas Ferguson, the acting undersecretary of intelligence, wrote that if someone has accessed such documents, it's sufficient just to delete them from the computer.
Ferguson warned in the memo, however, that WikiLeaks document -- and any other classified documents that may be posted on the Internet -- are still off-limits for Pentagon employees and contractors.
Following the instructions will delete the document and bypass sending it to computer's "Trash" bin.
"This action does not, however, physically erase or eliminate the document from the computer's hard drive," says Steven Aftergood, who writes the Secrecy News blog for the Federation of American Scientists. A copy of the memo was posted by the Federation of American Scientists on its website.
WikiLeaks has already released tens of thousands of military documents -- many classified -- relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is also in the process of releasing some 250,000 diplomatic cables. The classified documents are not only on WikiLeaks and its mirror sites but are also available on news websites, blogs and many private websites.
"This guidance pertains only to the accessing or downloading of the classified information described above because of the extent of the compromise and the prohibitive cost of standard sanitization procedures," the memo says. "All other classified spillage must be handled in accordance with existing regulations."
The new policy for WikiLeaks is a change from normal procedure, where the Pentagon is trying to contain a "spill" of classified information onto the Internet, according to Maj. Chris Perrine, a Pentagon spokesman. "In this case of a downloaded classified Wikileaks document, there is no additional risk of exposing the classified data (it is already on the Internet) so we don't need to go the extra steps to sanitize but just delete it after we ascertain that it is indeed a wikileaks document (and not a new spill)," Perrine wrote in an email.