Environmental Protection Agency employees attended mandatory training sessions last week to ensure their compliance with the rules against leaking classified or sensitive government information.
President Donald Trump has expressed anger over repeated leaks of potentially embarrassing information to media organizations in recent months. There is now an order for all executive branch agencies to undergo anti-leaks training, the Associated Press reported.
"We share the White House's concern with the unlawful leaks throughout the government," Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said Wednesday.
The EPA occasionally creates, receives, handles and stores classified material because of its homeland security, emergency response and continuity missions. EPA employees also work closely with contractors and other federal agencies that more regularly handle classified information.
Relatively few EPA employees deal with classified files, but the new training also reinforces requirements to keep "Controlled Unclassified Information" from unauthorized disclosure.
A fact sheet sent to EPA employees warned that leaks of even unclassified information could have serious consequences to national security.
"Enemies of the United States are relentless in their pursuit of information which they can exploit to harm US interests," the document said.
The document also summarized past instances where government secrets had been spilled either through espionage, computer hacks or leaks to reporters.
The list includes:
- the 1980s spying case involving CIA counter-intelligence officer Aldrich Ames on behalf of the Soviets;
- a 1972 leak to columnist Jack Anderson about spying on members of the Soviet Politburo, which he disclosed in The Washington Post; and
- the 2015 hack of computers at the Office of Personnel Management, a data breach that compromised the names, Social Security numbers, birthdates and home addresses and other sensitive personal information for 18 million people.
In a speech last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said those responsible for the "staggering number of leaks" coming out of the administration would be investigated and potentially prosecuted.
EPA staff was reminded of the whistleblower protections afforded to federal employees who expose wrongdoing. The training materials directed them to do so through proper channels for reporting fraud, waste and abuse, including the inspector general's hotline.
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