News | Student Life

SIPA warns students to avoid WikiLeaks

The School of International and Public Affairs warned students on Friday to avoid tweets, Facebook comments, or other posts about the recently released WikiLeaks documents.

In an email sent out to SIPA students, the Office of Career Services said that an alumnus from the U.S. State Department recommended against posting links to or making comments on social media sites about WikiLeaks, a controversial website that releases government information. The site has received attention most recently due to a leak of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables.

The email from SIPA—forwarded to Spectator and also posted on a blog called The Arabist last Thursday—said that the WikiLeaks documents are still considered classified and that posts about them could hurt students’ chances of getting jobs in the federal government.

Representatives from SIPA and the OCS did not respond to requests for comment this weekend.

Although the email stated that the advice came from an alumnus, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told The Huffington Post that he has no knowledge of this advice being given to individuals outside the State Department.

On campus, this recent incident—which has received media attention from multiple major news outlets—has sparked debate about the ethics of studying international politics.

“Note to the U.S. government: We know this is bad for you. Don’t make it worse by criminalizing everyone who studies international politics,” Gary Sick, senior research scholar at SIPA’s Middle East Institute and an adjunct professor of international and public affairs, said in an email.

“The culprit is the government security system that utterly collapsed and permitted this unprecedented breach. The answer is to fix that system, not to criminalize those who merely receive the information in their inboxes,” Sick said.

Rohini Haar, a student at the Mailman School of Public Health, said that the incident is disturbing. In one class on human rights abuses, she said, “We examined the disparities between the Iraqi body counts released on WikiLeaks and the Iraq war logs,” But she added, “Due to the recent email, many students in the class are worried whether this project might hurt them in the future.”

Despite concerns over free speech, some students said that the Office of Career Services should not be vilified for giving this advice.

“They were simply doing their job—imparting advice on how to strengthen our candidacy for a State Department or other governmental job,” Stephen Lee, SIPA ’12, said. “If you read the email, they say they are simply passing along information. OCS is not telling us how to think.”

He added, “I do not think this is an example of suppressing speech. They merely recommend us to keep our Facebook profiles clean.”

Jamal Greene, associate professor of law, said that Columbia is within its rights. “It is not constitutionally problematic for a private university to make students aware of the negative consequences of their speech acts. Columbia is not bound by the First Amendment since it is not a state actor,” he said in an email.

Greene, though, said that the email does leave some unanswered questions for the State Department if it did actually pass along the message—raising the possibility that “the State Department might be violating the First Amendment by threatening prospective employees not to exercise their free speech rights.”

Vincent Blasi, law professor of civil liberties, said that he would not have forwarded the message along if he ran the career services office.

“In a political system that embraces the freedom of speech, the federal government ought not to take into account in making hiring decisions whether a job applicant passed on or responded to once-classified information that has already been published,” he said in an email.

Although Sick said that he was in no position to say whether students should worry about consequences, he added that he does think it would be ridiculous for the government to punish students.

“If the USG sets about creating a database composed of all offenders on handling WikiLeaks, then they have either gone slightly crazy or else having nothing better to do with their time,” he said.

Sammy Roth contributed reporting.


Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Anonymous posted on

Any law professor worth his salt should know that possession of stolen property is a legitimate crime. One could also suggest that proliferating stolen information is accessory to the original crime. Smart move by career services. Maybe Professor Blasi owns TVs that "fell off the back of a truck," and he sees no problem with that either.

Anonymous posted on

You do what you are told columbia students. Governments have your best interest. You being in the Ivy league are being groomed and tailored for your jobs and your jobs are there to control 90% of the US population. You are in the position to either set yourself free and break the law or stay ignorant and do what you are told.

What's the difference between the New York TImes, Guardian or Le Monde and that of Wikileaks. Freedom of information.

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." orwell

Anonymous posted on

Hey "Guest," you're obviously not a lawyer, so don't comment on what any law professor "should know." I am a lawyer and here's some learning for you: Information is not "property." Classification rules apply to information, not paper or any other "property." The only person who broke the law is Pvt. Manning, or whomever else in the military or government broke the classification rules by leaking classified information. Anybody outside the government or military who reads that information is not in possession of stolen property and has not broken any other law. Everyone should understand this. Even leaking classified information is not a "crime," per se. Its an administrative violation that can result in getting fire or discharged from the military. Its not a crime unless you leak the identity of an undercover operative, nuclear information, or provide the secret information to a "foreign power." That may not be exactly correct, but its a far more accurate description of what happened than your ignorant "stolen property" theory.

Anonymous posted on

And to follow up, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove did commit a crime by leaking the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA agent. Libby took the fall and spent time in prison. So, if you're so concerned about the crime of "stolen property," as you called it, focus your ire on them.

Anonymous posted on