December 11, 2017

OPEN SOURCE IT ALL:

The U.S. Has Way Too Many Secrets : A Q&A with Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive ecrets are really worth keeping. (James Gibney, 12/11/17, Bloomberg)

How much does it cost to keep a secret? Well, the U.S. government sort of has an answer: $16.89 billion. That's how much it spent in 2016 to classify information that it deems too sensitive to be released to the public. Some secrets are worth keeping, of course -- like how to cook up chemical weapons, for instance. But others, less so. Rodney McDaniel, a top National Security Council official during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, estimated that only 10 percent of classification was for the "legitimate protection of secrets." Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, a head of the 9/11 commission, said that "three quarters of what I read that was classified should not have been." In fact, he argued that overclassification had left the U.S. more vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks. And that's to say nothing of its everyday effects on government accountability and efficiency, congressional oversight and public awareness.

Shortly after the government released a trove of documents on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I sat down with Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, to talk about America's dysfunctional mechanisms for classifying and declassifying information.  [...]

JG: So, there's no magical process by which those things that should be declassified by a certain time frame because of laws on the books actually do get declassified.

TB: Yeah, there are no magic wands. Steven Garfinkel, who used to run the Information Security Oversight Office, the government's internal watchdog on classification, once described coming into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, that was wall-to-wall with boxes dating back to the 1920s, '30s, '40s, '50s. He took about an hour and sampled stuff and then waved a wand and said, "let it go." Few people within the government are willing to take that level of responsibility. But with the tsunami of electronic records that's coming, the idiocy of this page-by-page, line-by-line review is a total failure. The backlog is enormous, and it's only growing.

JG: And as you've noted, a lot of the email traffic isn't even being logged and stored.

TB: Part of that was a deliberate government decision back in the 1990s. We brought the original lawsuit to force Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to save White House email. We won. But when we tried to expand that principle to the rest of the government during the 1990s, the so-called decade of openness, the government fought tooth and nail. We only found out because of the Hillary Clinton email business that no secretary of state has systematically saved their email, until John Kerry did.

JG: Isn't it true that as a result of Clinton's private server, we have a lot more of her emails than we would otherwise have had?

TB: Yes, much more than if she'd stuck with state.gov.

By keeping intelligence secret we get the blindness of experts instead of the wisdom of crowds.
Posted by at December 11, 2017 9:28 AM

  

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