National Security Training

When someone is cleared to view classified govt. documents, are they ever given any sort of training on how to protect such information? For example, how to respond to questions about the subject, etc. If I work for the govt. and read classified reports about a top-secret aircraft being developed by Lockheed, am I taught how to avoid inadvertantly revealing such info.? Say, a reporter finds out about the aircraft from another source and asks, “So, I heard the X-255 can reach Mach 7. Is that true?” Am I taught to say, “I don’t know anything about that,” or “I can’t talk about that,” or “The X-255? What’s that? Never heard of it,” so that I don’t accidentally say, “I can’t talk about the speed of the X-255,” and thereby confirm the existence of this top-secret project? Or am I given no guidance at all?

In the absence of anyone with any real knowledge of this, I’ll mention that I had a very low-level security clearance once. We had occasional visits from the Defense Investigative Service officer to review our procedures and remind us of ways to safeguard documents. It was a tiny company, but perhaps in larger companies there is more formal training.

Also, the officer was kind of friendly (and chatty; I think he was bored by his job), so I’d ask him for interesting tales of foreign espionage. One that I remember involved the French government spying on an American exec traveling to Paris for negotiations; apparently some governments are more enthusiastic about spying for the benefit of private companies than the US is. Also, I was working in Westchester County, New York, and we were given a wallet-sized card that listed certain consular license plate prefixes. We were told that the cars with these plates were not authorized to be outside a certain distance from the UN, so if we spotted them on the road locally, we were to call a certain phone number to report them. I wish I’d kept that card, as a souvenier, if nothing else. I’m sure the information on it is no longer valid.

If it’s a ‘black’ project, you stick to the cover story. For example, if someone asks you about the X-255 you would tell them something like, ‘X-255? I don’t know anything about that. I’m working on the F-15 Upgrade Project [fictional project I just made up].’ If the project is one that is generally known, for example the F-15 UP I mentioned and someone asks about performance, you tell him ‘I can’t talk about that.’ Since there is ‘Need To Know’ on classified projects, you may not even have the answer yourself. If someone seems persistant about finding information – e.g., he asks about it more than a few times even over a period of time – you would report it to your security officer.

There are general guidelines for handling classified information, and some projects have specific instructions. There is also periodic security training to keep people up to date on procedures.

When one gets a security clearance, there is a sort of class or briefing on what you can and cannot do. Folks are supposed to get refresher briefings every now and then. But generally speaking, it is more a matter of common sense and individual preference on how to respond to direct questions like the one posed in the OP, as opposed to having a script.

If I were posed such a direct question, I’d probably respond, “You’re a pretty lousy reporter if you expect me to risk my job over a question like that,” and terminate the conversation.