I was reading USA Today article about Bannon, and one statement piqued my interest:

Bannon’s military personnel file, obtained by USA TODAY, shows he was regularly promoted during his seven years of service.

The quote directly linked to downloadable document of the file.

  1. Are personnel files of former servicepeople considered private information that is not supposed to be made public? (i'm almost certain it's "yes" but don't know the precise legal rationale).

  2. If so, does USA Today obtaining it make it in any way legally culpable? (on one hand, possession of stolen goods makes one legally culpable, on the other hand, Pentagon Papers showed that this concept probably doesn't always apply to information).

  3. Either way, my main question is, does USA Today publishing it make it in any way legally culpable, either in criminal court, or in possble civil litigation?

Not sure if it matters greatly, but at cursory look, the file has not been scrubbed of any information, so whatever PII/personal info was in it, would still be in it

  • Yeah, you can't steal information. And unlike the Pentagon Papers, I don't suppose Bannon's file is classified. It can't be libel if it's accurate. The only legal problem I can think of is invasion of privacy, but public figures have much less protection in that regard. Feb 9, 2017 at 19:36
  • Of course, it's conceivable that Bannon himself gave the file to USA Today, or consented to its publication. Feb 9, 2017 at 19:38
  • @NateEldredge - That's true. I don't think their wording implies that but it's not impossible.
    – user0306
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:33

1 Answer 1


Some parts of his personnel file are improper to disclosure, although mere data on his history of promotions is probably not among those private parts of the file, as his rank would be widely available information displayed on his uniform every single day and probably publicized in every public communication he had with anyone. Every promotion is a commissioned officer is actually printed in an act of Congress, since all commissioned officer promotions must be approved by Congress.

In any case, generally speaking, in U.S. law, liability for disclosure of classified information extends only to the person who improperly obtained that information, not to the person who published it, as the Pentagon Papers case attests.

  • The problem isn't the classified nature of information, but the privacy issues, though. (I'm not saying the ultimate answer will differ, but there's no reason it has to be the same for the two cases)
    – user0306
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:33
  • @DVK Promotion data wouldn't even be private.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:41
  • Agreed. But the whole personnel file was posted as pdf, NOT excised promotion data.
    – user0306
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:50
  • @DVK Then there could be liability for the leaker. Someone would have to show that USA Today bribed someone in advance to steal the records for it to have liability which, factually, is unlikely.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 9, 2017 at 20:51

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