Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Any Concern for Classified Material?

Well, it took a while, but I finally agree with something French President Jacques Chirac did last week. The leak of a classified document from within the French government concerning the possible death of Usama bin Laden brought the appropriate response. His immediate concern was the fact that a classified document had been leaked. His public statements addressed that issue first and foremost, exactly as they should have.

But, it doesn’t appear we seem to have the same concern in this country for handling classified material. The illegal release of at least part of the National Intelligence Estimate from April is yet another breach of what Americans should expect to be an airtight system for securing our country’s classified information.

Our administration’s first response to yet another illegal disclosure, as well as the public’s first response, should have been one of fury at the leak and the impact a porous intelligence community has on our national security. Concern for the political implications of the document should have been a distant second.

After the leaks concerning the NSA surveillance program, CIA prisons in other countries, financial tracking of terrorist activities, and other classified information and programs, a pattern has developed which is obviously not simple criminal carelessness at the highest levels. This is either extreme negligence or deliberate breaches of the law, both of which should be strenuously investigated and prosecuted.

My own experience with classified material makes all of these high-level illegal disclosures even more baffling. Both in terms of how anyone could be so careless or intentional in breaking the law and why there isn’t a dragnet and very public prosecution of the criminals involved.

Like all young Lieutenants, I was given a host of what we like to call “crummy little odd jobs” in addition to my usual duties. I drew the job of Classified Material Control Center Officer for the first two units I was with. I think I’d have rather been the Voting Officer or something else much less intimidating. As I endorsed the orders assigning me to this duty, the “pucker factor” increased exponentially. I was now responsible for handling and accounting for the battalion’s classified material. I could see the butter bars never turning silver if I screwed this one up. It was after all “Secret” stuff I was responsible for. To say I had a heightened sense of accountability and attention to detail when performing this duty is an understatement.

So, I really can’t understand how anyone could then be so reckless, or worse yet, intentional in their mishandling of our country’s high level intelligence. Nor can I comprehend the indifference we seem to have for the crimes committed.

The potential damage and consequences to our nation from what is becoming an increasingly transparent intelligence community are immeasurable. But they are not intangible. Predicting the worst case scenario because our nation’s secrets can’t be kept is suddenly not just something that has to be done as a matter of planning and war gaming preparation. It becomes a necessary exercise because the possibility of some one using our own information to harm us has gotten one step closer to reality.

A passionate concern for our nation’s top secrets should apply regardless of administration or political party in charge. America’s classified material needs to be kept classified and only published for public consumption under the laws and through the processes established for doing so. Acceptance or indifference of anything less than strict adherence to these laws sets a dangerous precedent all future administrations and generations will suffer from.

With regard to the litany of infractions over the course of the last year, those on the left have essentially taken the stand that “we need to know these things as part of our open society.” They’re wrong and I’m sure they’d be singing a different song if this were a Democratic administration. Arguments about an “open society” and “need to know” only go so far and should not include public access to top secret information as if it were the latest and greatest on Brad and Angelina.

Many on the right are discussing the timing of this latest leak in relation to the Democrat’s hearings on Iraq, pointing political fingers at political motivations. They’re wrong too. The only thing that should be happening right now is trying to find out why our intelligence community seems to have turned into a sieve.

Since we seem to have a group of people who no longer care about our laws for handling and securing the nation’s classified material, maybe we should just turn the entire process over to a bunch of Corporal’s and young Lieutenants. I know they’d be committed to getting the job done right. After all, if they mishandled classified information in a similar fashion they’d surely face the fire and brimstone, as well as the loss of the coveted eagle, globe, and anchor they’d just recently worked so hard to earn.

Or better yet, why don’t those responsible for handling our nation’s highest levels of intelligence simply do their job correctly and those responsible for investigating and prosecuting these infractions do theirs.

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