Saturday, June 22, 2019

Classification Nation

     "Could you tell me a little about how the software is going to work? Not the tech stuff, just the kind of windy generalities a non-engineer could understand."
     Svenson squinted. "Why do you want to know, Ben?"
     "It might help me to be credible to the blue-suiters when we’re together in the trenches."
     The group leader shook his head. "They’re not expected to ask. In fact, they’re not allowed to know, both for the sake of an objective test and to protect OA’s proprietary technologies. And I wouldn’t use that trench idiom with an Air Force officer. Their hands never touch dirt."
     "Oh. Okay. But how about a little sop to a layman’s curiosity?"
     Svenson looked off for a moment. "Well, I could tell you..."
     Holloway leaned forward.
     "...but then I’d have to kill you." The group leader’s face twisted into a juvenile grin.
     Holloway groaned and smacked himself on the forehead. "I walked into that one, didn’t I?"
     "Yes, you did. Thanks. Now let’s get busy on your script."

     [From Chosen One]

     I worked in the defense sector for a very long time, and as such I had to become familiar with the classification scheme that applies to information the Department of Defense deems too important to bruit around casually. For those of us in the civilian part of that world, only the bottom three levels of the scheme were of regular importance:

  1. Confidential: Some harm to U.S. interests would accrue from the dissemination of this information, but recovery is likely.
  2. Secret: Serious harm to U.S. interests would accrue from the dissemination of this information. Recovery is uncertain.
  3. Top Secret: Extremely grave harm to U.S. interests would accrue from the dissemination of this information. Recovery would be impossible in the foreseeable future.

     There are levels above those three, though how many there are and how they’re defined I cannot say. Suffice it to say that even at the Secret level, an unhallowed disclosure, whether deliberate or accidental, was regarded as a matter for significant discipline. In some cases it could lead to felony charges and imprisonment.

     When information is protected by law from dissemination, one of the consequences is the use of the classification scheme to hide secrets that have nothing to do with the national interest. So it has been in the past, and so it is today:

     Last Wednesday the intelligence community launched its first attack on Attorney General William Barr’s investigation into its illegal acts and abuses of power during the 2016 election. In a New York Times article entitled “Justice Department Seeks to Question CIA in its Own Russia Investigation,” the IC makes clear its fear of the results of Barr’s investigation of their spy operation on candidate Trump in 2016 that continued through his early presidency.

     The article, obviously written at the behest of its intelligence community sources — “current and former American officials” — is the first of many concerted attacks on Attorney General William Barr’s investigation of the joint CIA/FBI spy operation. Many other articles, based on carefully crafted leaks to the media and Congress, are sure to follow because current and former high-ranking officials of those agencies (and probably the NSA as well) have a lot to lose.

     John Durham, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, is running the investigation under Barr’s direction. From the Times report, we can easily deduce the fact that those who ran the spy op — including CIA Director Gina Haspel — are running scared from the Durham investigation.

     It’s already become irrefutably clear to anyone paying attention that persons in the FBI, CIA, and DoJ did indeed violate the law in at least two ways: first, by the unwarranted wiretapping of Carter Page and others in the Trump for President campaign under a demonstrably fallacious rationale; second, by the “leak” of information to the press about investigations and other developments arising from those wiretaps, in violation of various elements of the United States Code.

     The CIA, in particular, is not pleased about being the subject of an investigation with potential criminal indictments in prospect:

     [T]he CIA isn’t going to cooperate. As the Times article says, [CIA Director Gina] Haspel has told her officials to cooperate but — and here’s the big catch — still work to protect “… critical pieces of intelligence whose disclosure could jeopardize sources, reveal collection methods or disclose information provided by allies, according to current and former American officials…”

     Either the CIA is going to cooperate — as the president ordered — or it isn’t. Clearly, it isn’t. There’s no limitation on the cooperation Trump ordered, but Haspel and her people are going to drag their feet, and probably hide evidence and lie to protect themselves from the investigators.

     That part of the Times story reveals the CIA’s attitude, which may be imputed to Haspel. Again, it says, “Senior agency officials have questioned why the CIA’s analytical work should be subjected to a federal prosecutor’s scrutiny.”

     That’s it in a nutshell: the CIA believes it should not be accountable for its misdeeds, even if laws have been broken.

     Surely if “the CIA’s analytical work” was within the parameters of the law, those involved have nothing to fear, right? Yet there is palpable fear in Langley over the Barr / Durham investigation – so much so that they recoil from having it called an “investigation:”

     [Disgraced former FBI Director] James Comey — probably at the behest of then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch — only referred to the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s felonious use of a private, unsecured email system as a “matter.” By doing so he tried to exclude the possibility that it was a criminal investigation despite the fact that it very much was one. So is the Barr/Durham investigation. It’s not a “review.” By definition, such an investigation is an investigation into possible criminal actions.

     And by Director Haspel’s own statements, the CIA will use the classification scheme, and the purported seriousness of the information it’s used to protect, to protect...itself.

     A nation cannot have a scheme for keeping secrets, violations to be punishable by law, without the possibility that that scheme will be abused. It’s simply not possible to keep villains from exploiting such a system. On the one hand, several of the most recent prosecutions for espionage have involved Classified Documents Control clerks: persons with blanket authority to handle even the most serious of the nation’s secrets. On the other, the use of classification to shield evidence of criminal wrongdoing against disclosure, with persons of unreviewable authority standing guard against penetration, is at the heart of the current controversy. So as with all items of power, how it will be used depends upon the motives and character of the persons who strive to use it.

     Could there be a better testament to the importance of Friedrich Hayek’s analysis of “Why The Worst Get On Top” — ? Could any consideration better outline the importance of restricting the classification system and its uses as severely as possible – perhaps even to its total elimination?

     It has been observed by many commentators that the preservation of a “secret” is best effected by discretion: that is, by simply not talking about it, nor writing it where others will read about it, nor otherwise making it available to ill-chosen eyes and minds. As the old saying goes, “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.” Robert A. Heinlein noted how this might apply to another of our national muddles: the poor protection of patentable and copyrightable materials:

     "Danny Boy, you are not going to patent the gadget. What would it get you? Seventeen years at the most... and no years at all in three fourths of the world. If you did patent or try to, Edison, and P. G. and E., and Standard would tie you up with injunctions and law suits and claimed infringements and I don't know what all. But you said yourself that you could put one of your gadgets in a room with the best research team G.A. has to offer and the best they could do would be to melt it down and the worst would be that they would blow themselves up. You said that. Did you mean it?"
     "Certainly. If they don't know how I insert the—"
     "Hush! I don't want to know. And walls have ears. We don't make any fancy announcements; we simply start manufacturing. Wherever power is cheapest today. Where is that?"

     [From Friday]

     Even if “the gadget” wouldn’t melt down or blow you up, getting out ahead of the pack and running like the wind provides the best form of security for most important information. After all, it’s the exploitation that matters, not the mere abstract knowledge. But all that is for another tirade.

     What ought to concern Us the People is that the Omnipotent State has contrived a protective method for the violation of our rights that effectively shields the perpetrators from all consequences – and that that method has been used in an attempt to unseat a legitimately elected president. Above all the faux outrages of our day, this one deserves proper scrutiny. Let’s make sure it gets it.


HoundOfDoom said...

Shipstones - From another great Heinlein book. You impress me daily, sir.

pc-not said...

The Deep State has in place many supposed fail safe methods to protect themselves. Their smugness is bolstered by two facts, a supportive news media that will go to bat for them at any length and a dumbed down general population too occupied to care. If prosecutions of these evildoers is not successful, I fear the worst.

cc said...

Soap box, Ballot Box, Jury Box, Cartridge Box. Where in the Spectrum are we right now?

If i am ever on a jury, no matter what the charges are, or who is on trial, if an FBI agent testifies, I WILL ASSUME THEY ARE LYING, and i will try yo convince the other jurors that they are lying.

The only tool the FBI really has is credibility. As far as i am concerned, they cashed that chip in, trying to get Hillary Elected, if not before. As far as i am concerned, they are writing checks on an overdrawn account. If they are unable to gain convictions, the FBI will quickly lose the only currency they actually have with their masters, since they are actually supposed to be "Law Enforcement".


What was that, again? Try selling that to someone else, Buddy, I'm not buying...

Oldfart said...

Since the great Robert Heinlein has already been mentioned, let me show how he felt about secrecy:

"Secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy . . . censorship. When any government, or any Church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects “This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything--- you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him. ---R.A.H. Revolt in 2100."

At one time I spent a year on Adak, a barren island in the Aleutian chain. One of my tasks was to go through files of drawings, sketches and correspondence from the WWII era, when upwards of 80,000 soldiers were assigned to those wind-swept beaches and crags. The ultimate purpose of our search was to locate and destroy meaningless classified files.

Among this collection we found a free-hand drawing of a proposed Officer's latrine to be built in a similarly proposed building. A careful search of records showed that the building had never been built, yet the "Top Secret Toilet" lived on in a musty drawer for another ten years.