Monday, August 27, 2007

Something Else I Did Not Know

Like many Americans, I have been troubled by the deep secrecy surrounding just about everything the current administration does. What is BushCo hiding? And why? Well, I got a kind of answer today in an op-ed piece by Joseph Weisberg in today's NY Times.

How can information that’s a five-minute Google search away be classified? It’s simple. Classified information is not the same thing as secret information.

When I worked in the C.I.A.’s directorate of operations (now called the national clandestine service) in the early ’90s, we were told that information was classified when it involved sources or methods. It seemed logical that sources were classified. These were actual agents who would be put in jeopardy if their identities were revealed.

But practically everything the C.I.A. does could be considered a “method,” so the C.I.A. can decide that almost anything relating to its work is classified. You’d probably want this latitude if you were running an intelligence agency. But one of its unfortunate byproducts is that no one, inside or outside the intelligence community, really knows what classified information is. ...

In the end, then, the classification system serves a perfectly valid purpose. It draws a distinction between the information that the government does, and does not, want to discuss publicly. What ends up classified may seem a bit perverse at times, such as when information in the public domain is ruled off limits for publication. But that’s troubling only if you make the mistake of thinking that classified information is supposed to be secret.
[Emphasis added]

Mr. Weisberg uses the US clandestine operations in Afghanistan in the 1980s as an example. The CIA sent weapons to the 'insurgent' factions against the Russian occupiers. Russian troops were being killed with those weapons. The Russian government was undoubtedly aware of our largesse, but neither the US nor Russia wanted to have to confront the issue, so it remained "classified."

I think the administration has simply taken this concept and extended it to White House operations. It isn't necessarily about secrecy, it's about keeping information out of public discussion, whether that discussion takes place in newspapers or at the dinner table. We all know pretty much who attended Vice President Cheney's energy meetings, yet the White House fought bitterly to keep that information out of the public discourse, just as the CIA fought bitterly to keep the dates of Valerie Plame's employment with the CIA out of her book.

And the one thing this administration does not want is a public discussion. About anything. There might be some uncomfortable questions raised, and the administration is having none of that.



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