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DHS employees warned not to disclose 'nonpublic information' in leaked memo

A senior member of the Department of Homeland Security warned employees not to disclose "nonpublic information," and said they could face criminal, civil or administrative consequences for leaking, in an email sent out Thursday that was quickly leaked to TucsonSentinel.com and others. 

In the email, first published by BuzzFeedNews, and also independently provided to TucsonSentinel.com by a departmental source, Chip Fulghum, the deputy undersecretary for management at DHS, told federal employees that "we serve the public, and our loyalties must prioritize that purpose above all others."

"A violation of the public trust might arise, for example, if DHS personnel disclose nonpublic information or use it for their own personal benefit, such as for monetary gain, or for the private gain of others," he said. 

"Unauthorized disclosure or use of sensitive and protected nonpublic information derived from your position or gained in the performance of your DHS duties, regardless of whether you personally gain, can be a misuse of position," Fulghum said. 

Fulghum defined "nonpublic information" in his memo, noting that this would include "information you know or should have known has not been made available to the general public," as well as information that is "designated as confidential," and would not be made public "even upon a request." 

This would include information that DHS might withhold in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, as well as information that the department would disclose, "but which is not yet public."

The staffer at DHS who leaked the memo to TucsonSentinel.com requested anonymity to protect their job.

As part of his memo, Fulghum outlined the duties that DHS personnel had under whistleblower protections, noting that disclosures of information, including classified information and information protected by the Privacy Act, are only protected "if they are made to the Office of Special Counsel, an Inspector General office, or to Congress, and only if the information is handled in a manner that is consistent with applicable law," he said. 

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"In order to avoid or mitigate consequences, DHS personnel are reminded to notify their supervisor promptly about any inadvertent use or disclosure of nonpublic information," Fulghum wrote. 

On Wednesday, the agency also sent out a request for volunteers to help "frontline" agencies — including Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — deal with the thousands of families and children traveling without parents or guardians, who have come to the U.S. seeking asylum from three Central American countries and Mexico.

Within minutes, that internal memo was provided to TucsonSentinel.com by an agency source.

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Ellen O’Brien/Cronkite News

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and U.S. Rep. Martha McSally speak with Kevin Hecht, deputy patrol agent in charge, east of Nogales in June 2018.