Pitt professors warn about sharing WikiLeaks documents

By Gretchen Andersen

A number of Pitt professors and administrators warned students last week against sharing… A number of Pitt professors and administrators warned students last week against sharing controversial information released by WikiLeaks—especially if they have aspirations to work for the government.

WikiLeaks, an organization that publishes confidential documents on its website, released a quarter million secret cables discussing American diplomacy in late November. Many of the documents are considered classified information, and possessing them could violate federal criminal statutes.

Sharing the wikileaks, some have argued, amounts to sharing classified information, an act that could gum up the works during the regular security and background checks conducted on people applying for government jobs.

Jessica Hatherill, associate director of Alumni Relations and Career Services for the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said in an e-mail that the school is taking precautions and warning students about the implications of sharing WikiLeaks or their opinions on the controversial release of documents.

GSPIA decided how to warn students on Dec. 8 after “speaking with career services colleagues from other schools of international affairs and public policy and reviewing articles written about the situation,” Hatherill said.

Late last week, GSPIA students received both a link to a Vault article in the weekly Career Services e-bulletin and a separate e-mail with the text of a Washington Post article from GSPIA’s Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, Hatherill said.

“We felt it was important that students realize the seriousness of the situation and we wanted them to have information from reputable sources,” she said.

Hatherill said she and her colleagues have not heard worries from students, but said they are perhaps talking to their professors about the issue. GSPIA students are encouraged to talk to Career Services if they have any questions or are worried, Hatherill said.

“Our message is to be smart about the situation,” Hatherill said. “Don’t do something that could endanger your ability to obtain a security clearance in the future.”

Donald Rieley, director of Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said he sent a Washington Post article in an e-mail to his students, colleagues and some friends.

Rieley urged students to be aware of the consequences of discussing WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter. He said though many consider WikiLeaks public information, the government still considers it illegal activity.

“This could potentially be a stumbling block for security clearances if they identify themselves as sharing WikiLeaks,” Rieley said. “Students should be forewarned.”

The Office of Career Services has a history of encouraging students to be careful with what they post on social media sites.

“It’s a fact: Recruiters do go on Facebook, or they’ll assign it to an intern to check on a candidate,” said Barbara Juliussen, associate director of Office of Career Services.

Juliussen said that as a staff, Career Services has not decided what to do about WikiLeaks, but she is “sure the topic will come up in the future.”

Juliussen said students applying for government jobs have been told by Career Services that it is a lengthy process and there is a thorough background check.

Many students have conflicting or mixed feelings about discussing WikiLeaks on social sites.

James Price, a second year Masters student in International Development, said that he hasn’t posted anything about WikiLeaks but  understands both sides.

“I think it’s understandable that the government would have their position. Many of the documents are considered secret,” he said. “I understand their perspective in that they have to take that stance. I also understand why the international community and those not in the government like the glimpse of honesty.”

Price said that working for the government isn’t a goal, but he isn’t ruling it out either.

“I’m being more careful about my views and pushing it one way or another,” he said.

Thea Berthoff, a sophomore majoring in French, said she hopes to work in governmental fields such as intelligence or international diplomacy. She hasn’t posted anything on Facebook or Twitter, but has been discussing it with her friends.

Berthoff said she hopes the government “isn’t so single-minded to bar hiring people” if they did post commentary about WikiLeaks.

“The leak of these highly-classified documents is certainly an embarrassment on an international level, but thinking that our government could be so paranoid as to pick only its most shuttered citizens for the next generation of federal employees is frightening,” Berthoff said. “Sure, future federal employees need to be able to keep classified information classified, but it’s fantastic that college students have an opinion about the leaks, or any current event, in the first place.”