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Bradley Manning Verdict Presents Good Lesson in Statement of Reasons Guidelines

The July 30 verdict in the court-martial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who leaked government and diplomatic secrets, brings the world closer to the conclusion of a three-year battle to bring him to justice.

It also provides a real-world example of several Statement of Reasons guidelines that would be grounds for someone in his situation to have their security clearance revoked.

Officials arrested Manning, 25, in May 2010 after discovering he had leaked about 750,000 pages of information to WikiLeaks. It is the largest document leak in history. A judge acquitted Manning of the most serious charge against him – aiding the enemy – but found him guilty of violating the Espionage Act. At the time this post was written, Manning awaited sentencing and faces up to 136 years in prison.

Manning held top-secret security clearance and “sensitive compartmentalized information” clearance, according to a CNN article. Top secret is a lower clearance level, while SCI-level information is on a “need to know” basis that may require codes to access.

Although this type of case is unusual, it creates an opportunity to talk about some of the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information, says John Griffith, a military security clearance attorney who assists clients who’ve been denied clearance, as well as those applying for clearance.

A Statement of Reasons is presented when security clearance is denied or revoked, and one or more guidelines are referenced. In a case such as Manning’s, it is likely clearance would be revoked based on guidelines E, K, and/or M, Griffith says.

Guideline E pertains to personal conduct such as failure to abide by rules and regulations, Griffith says. Guideline K relates to security violations, while Guideline M details the misuse of information technology systems.

All of these guidelines outline concerns related to a person’s ability to be trusted and to protect classified information.

When military personnel, civilian government employees, and contractors for the government are granted security clearance, “the government wants to be sure these people are capable of being trusted with protecting sensitive, potentially harmful information,” Griffith says. “Background checks are conducted, but there surely will always be isolated cases where someone negligently or willfully leaks information.”

The consequences of those actions vary greatly. Punishment could be as minor as revocation of clearance, to as serious as prison time.

“What many people don’t realize is that being issued a Statement of Reasons doesn’t always mean clearance will be denied or revoked,” Griffith says. “If the incident is isolated or infrequent, there may be some recourse.”

It is important to consult an attorney who specializes in this area of law when a situation arises where denial or revocation are possible. Doing so helps ensure you take the best approach in responding to the Statement of Reasons and requesting a hearing.

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