Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Got Your Secrets Right Here

Do you want to know a secret?,
Do you promise not to tell?, whoa oh, oh.

—Lennon/McCartney


Confidential, Secret, Top Secret, WikiLeaks, Unclassified, Declassified...what's in a name and category?

Surely we'll all be sick of this current mess, as well as each have one or more opinions of the meshugas. Ryan and I put out ours (all public, all the time) at Left Ahead! in our podcast. We had our disagreements as always, but we concurred that it is long past time for the executive and legislative branches to demand some sanity here.

The number and variety of government documents in the Secret category is absurd and asinine. Our big shots in D.C. need to stomp and shout. They need to order a major documentation effort. Evaluate every document classified as Confidential or Secret at the very least. Give American people and the larger world a break. Show some respect for the alleged freedoms and honesty we profess.

I could almost guarantee that eight or nine of ten classified documents should be public information. That would harm no one, would benefit some non-profits and businesses, and would go a long, long way to restoring the sense of the nation that their government had their interests in heart and mind.

The huge joke here is that an amazing percentage of classified docs have long been pubic. Many have been published in books and/or newspapers, others were on the internet long before the government decided to classify them, and others are commonly available in universities and public libraries. Get real!

The heavy SECRET and TOP SECRET stamp wielders are often thoughtless bureaucrats and military functionaries. Typical of those check-your-brains-at-the-door and rules-are-rules types, they err on the side of mindlessness. Like last century's cliché that no one ever got fired for buying IBM, the attitude is it's better to classify something, anything, than get called on it later for not doing it.

So, as with our plethora of local, statewide and national laws, we have far, far too much control and bureaucracy.

Moreover, who can see this stuff is something we should each ask. I've mused this on and off from college days. Then, a roomie brought Secret documents to our dorm. He was careful to keep them closed and ask me not to look at any. Yet, I had to wonder why a junior in a fluid-dynamics engineering program who was in ROTC had access to the middle range of classified docs.

It turns out that the need-to-know requirements are super-loose. As accused info conduit Private First Class Bradley Manning illustrates, a frighteningly wide range of people have free access to terrific amounts of classified and supposedly security-critical material.

I think of the years when I have been on the civilian side of secrecy. I've never had DOD or DOE clearances. Yet as an employee and contractor with various companies and agencies, I've signed non-disclosure agreements — during and after the fact secrecy contracts — maybe 100 times. AT&T, Microsoft, government agencies and others wield their huge secrecy sticks for technology, trade secrets, marketing plans and more. Penalties for violating the contracts don't include prosecution for treason or being shipped to clandestine military facilities without charges, but they are considerable.

I have never violated one of those agreements and never will. Then again, I'm kind of a permanent Boy Scout.

My sister is in the same mold. She has a spooky security clearance. She does something she'll never specify in Las Alamos. That's quite the point. I'm not so sure if it's how we were raised or just us, but she tells no one what she does or anything about her work. Hush.

There can be such compelling reasons...plus the personalities of those involved...that lead to effective secret keeping. On the other hand, if public or private folk know that docs become classified by rote and without thought, there is likely to be considerably less respect for the mandate.

I have no doubt that we would be much better off if we as a nation would have thinking people classifying and declassifying docs, with reasons rather than by reflex. There are several centuries of history at work here. Allegedly a key factor that differentiates our nation and people from nearly all others is our keep love, almost worship, of liberty.

The current trends toward the anti-democratic and anti-liberty should horrify us all. Frankly, all should be available except that which must be hidden. Hiding all and making us distrust and disbelieve government and military, and even defense contractors is no way to run a country, at least not this country.

I call on our President and Congress to show some wit here, along with some awareness of what makes America.



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1 comment:

Daniel said...

There should be a Congressional committee, with guys like Kucinich and Ron Paul, who, along with a three-judge panel appointed by the president, have the ability to declassify anything unworthy of classified status. Only stuff that is absolutely vital to current national security should be classified. Stuff that should be referred to prosecutors, like Abu Ghraib or illegal spying, could also get a first reading from this committee.
Something along those lines, anyway.

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