Once again we're seeing media coverage of some of our nation's classified documents. We've seen several cases of this in the last 6 months and there are a great number of pundits with diverse opinions on the matter. Some are saying that we "over classify" documents and that has been part of the problem. I'm sure there's some truth in there.
Others state that the documents have been mishandled or carelessly (read "recklessly') filed and moved from location to location. There's undoubtedly some accuracy in this assessment as well.
Rather than focus on the cause or how to cure this problem in a bureaucracy as large as the federal government, let's look at some of the fallout and why it's significant for a business as well.
First, any sort of classified material breach has the potential to compromise ongoing efforts the information supports. That is to say, if we are engaged in ongoing intelligence operations or negotiations (equally applicable in business) it could very easily sabotage future opportunities. Inevitably when you are negotiating with someone, you're in a relationship that likely continues even after negotiations are over. After intelligence is leaked, it casts a pall over the initial operation and certainly influences longer term outcomes.
Equally important to compromising ongoing efforts, leaks can also expose wrong-doing or abuse of power by individuals or agencies. Generally, when a leak is proven to be in the best interest of the general public we hope to see lasting and important changes to prevent similar circumstances from occurring again. In some ways, these types of leaks are of benefit.
In all circumstances, however, there is a very important aspect that has tremendous long lasting implications. There is a general erosion of trust in the institution. Whether the leak exposes duplicitous behavior, or simply shows the inner workings of an organization that were never meant to be public knowledge, the reality is people lose trust. For governments, trust is the currency of legitimacy. Without it, legitimacy begins to decay. For companies, trust is one of the biggest determining factors in a purchaser's decision to buy from you. If it isn't in good standing, you'll soon find that your revenue is in murky territory as well.
Once again, we see that the importance of handling and disposing of sensitive material is of utmost importance. While most organizations don't offer tremendous consideration to how they dispose of confidential material, it seems every couple of months we are reminded just how important doing so properly actually is.