Saturday, December 18, 2004

Unauthorized Disclosure

That's classified. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

The origin of that line is debatable (Dr. No?), but all we cared about as young guns was that it worked (No, really. It did -- to varying degrees of success) on the babes at the "Triangles" club down the road from Fort Huachuca.

I suppose we could have said, when queried about what we do:

That's classified. I could tell you, but then I have a personal, moral, and legal responsibility at all times to protect classified information, whether oral or written, within my knowledge, possession, or control. Further, I must follow procedures that ensure that unauthorized persons do not gain access to classified information. I have been advised that any unauthorized disclosure of classified information by me may constitute a violation, or violations, of United States criminal laws, including the provisions of Sections 641, 793, 794, 798, 952, and 1924, Title 18, United States Code, and the provisions of Section 783(b), Title 50, United States Code.

... but the former phrase was considerably easier to remember and recite in a state of blissful inebriation while working towards hormonal convergence. And the "Triangles" babes were quite taken with it.

Sooooo...what are we to make of the recent disclosure of classified information by 3 Democrat senators?

If you haven't heard, Senators Jay Rockefeller, Dick Durbin and Ron Wyden -- Rockefeller and Wyden are members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence -- disclosed, without authorization, classified information.

Not just any classified information, either. Nosireebob, they went whole hog.

To get to the seriousness of what they disclosed, let's look at some definitions.

Classified information falls into 3 categories:

1. Confidential - unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security of the United States.

2. Secret - unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security of the United States.

3. Top Secret - unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.

The information the 3 senators disclosed falls under category 3.

Examples of "exceptionally grave damage" include, but are not limited to, armed hostilities against the United States or its allies, disruption of foreign relations vitally affecting the national security, compromise of national-level cryptographic systems, exposure of intelligence sources or methods, and substantial disruption of the capability of the National Command Authority (i.e. the President/Secretary of Defense) to function in times of peace or crisis.

It gets worst.

Top Secret information is further protected by compartments -- that is to say, certain programs are so sensitive that access is restricted to a relatively small number of folks who:

a. hold a Top Secret security clearance
b. work on the program, or
c. have a need to know about the program

There's even a name for it. Top Secret - Sensitive Compartmented Information, aka Top Secret/SCI or simply TS/SCI.

Now at this point, we haven't necessarily entered the "Black" world. Not all Top Secret/SCI programs are "Black", but ALL "Black" programs are Top Secret/SCI.

Black programs are off the books. Unacknowledged. Don't show up in the intelligence budget.

An even smaller number of people are cleared and have a need-to-know.

Some refer to Black programs as "Above Top Secret". Legally, that is not accurate -- but it is true.

Black programs are officially known as Special Access Programs (SAP) and not just anybody with a Top Secret clearance is gonna be allowed to know anything about them.

Those who work on the programs or have a need-to-know about the programs must never acknowledge there is such a thing as, say, Project X.

If queried about Project X, "That's classified. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you" is not an acceptable answer. Neither is, for that matter, "no comment". You don't even try to be cute. There are acceptable responses, but if I told you ...

Further, if someone cleared for a Black program is questioned by a non-cleared person, a report to the appropriate security official is mandatory. A process follows to determine if the program has been compromised. You would rather be nibbled to death by ducks than to go through that process.

A lot of money, time and energy (less if we would be smarter) are spent on protecting these programs. Often the cover is elaborate and includes a disinformation plan.

Now, I realize this may all sound a bit like James Bond -- or worse, Maxwell Smart -- but it is very serious business.

As a democratic society, we've not come up with a better way of protecting our most sensitive secrets from the likes of China, Iran and North Korea.

There is oversight on the Black world -- to include congressional oversight. Americans should not want it any other way.

But we should expect those who oversee the Black world to not behave like idiots.

Senators Rockefeller, Durbin and Wyden did not get permission to disclose the information before they blabbed about it. There are established procedures to do that. They ignored the procedures.

Well, maybe they knew that the answer would be no and felt so strongly about it that they were willing to risk criminal referrals. Maybe so.

But before we let the press make them out to be martyrs, the chance of U.S. Senators being prosecuted is nil. And the senators know this.

In fact, prosecution is very difficult even if the defendant is not a U.S. Senator. You end up disclosing more about the program and intelligence methods and procedures than you would if you just leave 'em be. Maybe a shot across the bow (criminal referrals, in this case). Publicly disgrace them (but that assumes they are moral men). Anyway, that's about all that will probably happen to the SOB'ing senators.

If I were King, they would, at a mininum, be removed from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and their security clearances would be revoked.

But alas, I'm just a Monk.

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