Jeffrey LewisA Note To Readers

I know that a lot of my readers have .gov and .mil addresses, which means that I need to take special care about how I treat classified material on this website.

I’ve spent a few days talking to people, and there are no easy answers.  Each element of the government seems to have its own policies, which are evolving over time.

Until further notice, I am adopting the following policy when it comes to treating classified material, particularly that released by Wikileaks. (I have updated previous posts to conform with this policy.)

1.  Under no circumstance will I post quotations that include security markings.  I may quote from documents, but I won’t put anyone in the position of having a scarlet S or the dreaded NOFORN appear on their screen and, as a result, in their cache.

2.  Under no circumstance will I post either the full-text of a cable or even consecutive paragraphs.  In fact, I doubt that I will ever post the entirety of a paragraph. Any material taken from the cables will appear as it might in the New York Times or Washington Post.

3.  I will do my best to enforce this policy on reader comments.

I hope that this satisfies the majority of readers with day jobs.  In any event, I invite readers to comment on the new policy and am prepared to modify it if and when circumstances dictate.

Comments

  1. Anonymous (History)

    Thanks, I was worried about having to give up my daily reading.

  2. Jon (History)

    Perhaps it would be useful to note somewhere in the title of posts that they contain material from WikiLeaks. It would give a heads up to readers who might choose to avoid those entries in their RSS feeds. I’m not sure it would do much for people who read on the website – perhaps those entries could be set so readers have to click through a link to see the full post.

  3. Mark Lincoln (History)

    I remember two times in my life when what had been declassified became reclassified with people who had written encyclopedia articles losing their security clearances because what they had written had been reclassified.

  4. kevin (History)

    Thanks Jeffrey. Cheers!

  5. Anon (History)

    Can people with .gov or .mil read the NYTimes?

    • anotheranon (History)

      We have determined that we can read the NYT and the Wash Post (and some are even reading the Guardian at home), and that we don’t have to collect up the copies of the NTY and Wash Post and store them in the safe. But the policy is not solid yet, so, who knows….

  6. MarkoB (History)

    If only a small proportion of you readers are .gov and .mil types then your case for this would not be as strong, so I assume that a lot, if not most, of your readers are .gov and .mil types. Perhaps your case for modifying your posting here is sound, but it invites the, reasonable, question whether you have pulled your punches knowing that your readers are .gov and .mil types on more substantive content wise issues. I’ve been reading this blog pretty much since day one, and I reckon I’m not the only one to notice a subtle, but discernible, conservative shift to the critique of state power, especially when a Democrat is in the White House. Kinda reminds me a bit of Michael O’Hanlon and Ivo Daalder, although they even go the extent of sucking up to Republicans. But I suppose that’s why Daalder is a .gov, no?

    • Jeffrey (History)

      You know, the simpler explanation for why I might sometimes sound like Ivo is that he is a friend and mentor.

      That or the crazy conspiracy theory you just outlined. Take your pick.

    • FSB (History)

      I have noticed a distinct decrease in expletives and obscenities since the blog began and am more worried about that. I hope it shall be remedied.

  7. VS (History)

    It’s an irony. This whole thing reminds me of a story I heard once too often inside the D-100 room, when people would talk about US-Soviet talks back in the Cold War.

    It seems that the Soviets sometimes had to call for a time-out and then they would ask from their American counterparts to refrain from mentioning certain infomation about the USSR in the course of the talks because in their own delegation, that is in the Soviet delegation… there where some people lacking the proper clearance level to know about that.

    Now these cables are out there for anyone around the globe to see and the USG tries to keep its own employees from learning about it.

    • Allen Thomson (History)

      My favorite story along these lines comes from several years ago, when someone involved in the international orbital debris reduction program pointed out that the US and Russia periodically exchange satellite orbital element catalogs. And the US classifies the Russian one SECRET when it gets to Houston because it includes the elements of NRO spysats.

      Of course, the elements of those satellites are also generated on an unclassified basis by amateur observers and can be obtained at places such as Heavens Above. (Check it out for visible passes of the LACROSSEs for your location.)

  8. 3.1415 (History)

    What’s the fuss about not letting the right hand know that the left hand had a paper cut? It smacks of China ordering the Tongue and Throat of the Party and the People (i.e. the Propaganda Department of the CCP) not to utter the three character name of the person who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

  9. Taylor Wray (History)

    Pussy.

  10. Allen Thomson (History)

    As long as we’re discussing secrecy, I recently came across a somewhat interesting paper that appeared in NSA’s Cryptologic Quarterly called “Toward a Taxonomy of Secrets.” The author, [name redacted], points out something that’s fairly obvious to people who’ve worked in classified environments: there’s a huge sociological/ cultural/ psychological component to the practice of secrecy and the associated behaviors and attitudes.

    http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/cryptologic_quarterly/toward_a_taxonomy.pdf

  11. Jeannick (History)

    .
    The precautions seems appropriate
    even if the wiki-leaks are rather bland
    most are the kind of stuff one could get from newspapers
    a fair bit of bitching and the odd little gem ,
    but hardly anything which would be disfavorable
    to the united States
    Except to highlight the security mess
    and the lack of imagination of the Diplomatic corps

    Too much cocktail parties , no doubts

  12. Azr@el (History)

    I understand why the government feels castrated by wiki leaks; most if not all of their sources are revealed to be ….gossip and innuendo. No doubt the authours of this blog would require posters to provide sources to back up the half baked stuff spewing from the wiki leak cables: 19 BM-25 my sweet Irish tussy.

    Yet in the same vein, I’m perplexed why this site would join in the censorship of wiki leaks. Sure, to protect the careers and pensions of the .mil and .gov crowd, sounds noble, but alas if an employee of the US gov’t is not supposed to know of these cables or the information contained in these cables…then isn’t this site along with the NYT and whatnot circumventing the intent of government’s position? Treason perchance?

    I suggest a slightly more mundane theory to explain the rationale behind this Iranian style censorship: it’s very unsexy to be a site with so called insider perspective and privileged info if it turns out that the bulk of the insider data is bunk. In order to preserve a veneer of the aura of privileged access, perhaps it’s in the real interests of this site to help cover up the emperor’s nudity as opposed to critically ,and hopefully constructively, analyze the government’s inefficiencies as revealed by wiki leaks.

    • anon (History)

      You do not understand the problem that Jeffrey is trying to solve. First, someone who works for the goverment, in general, and holds security clearances, in particular, are required, by law, to protect classified information. Even if that information has leaked into the unclassified world, it remains classified, by law, until the original classifier (in this case, the State Dept) declares it unclassified. We, with clearances, can read it, but we can’t discuss it or confirm it or use it in other writings. That’s why Jeffrey has said he won’t quote full cables or paragraphs, but will excerpt and paraphrase.

      Second, you cannot store or print classified information on an unclassified gov’t computer, that pollutes the computer, and requires that all its drives and files be scrubbed, a costly, time-consuming, and fundamentally annoying process. Hence, Jeffrey’s avoidance of paragraphs with paragraph markings. That’s to protect us from this procedural annoyance.

      He’s not hiding the information. He’s just adjusting its form to make it easier for us to participate in his discussions without breaking the law.

  13. Contractor (History)

    FYI, the govt policy banning viewing wikileaks files on a govt computer isn’t to prevent employees from reading the cables; it’s to prevent classified material from appearing on unclassified systems.

  14. AGENTX (History)

    Plainly silly. The horses are out of the barn and so we now we decide to burn the barn down just for the sake of the few.

    I guess the best read so far on this is from Lawfare ( Seven Thoughts on Wikileaks ) ( http://www.lawfareblog.com/2010/12/seven-thoughts-on-wikileaks/#more-969).

    This is not about Wikileaks nor should it be. That is just a bunch of crap. Goldsmith hits it right on the head when he quotes, Justice Stewart in the Pentagon Papers, “that the responsibility for these disclosures lies firmly with the institution empowered to keep them secret: the Executive branch”.

    As far as your policy Jeff, its your policy, what ever. But its ridiculous.

  15. Jeffrey (History)

    The assertion that removing security markings and excerpting the cables is somehow censorship (let alone Iranian-style) baffles me.

    Use your cache to compare the three posts on the cables before and after scrubbing. There is no substantive difference, only a stylistic one.

    Yet that stylistic adjustment permits a substantially larger universe of individuals, including think-tank types who maintain clearances, to continue to participate in our discussions.

    I think that is a net gain for transparency, as well as just being the polite thing to do given the draconian response imposed on USG employees and contactors by a panicked Administration.

    • Azr@el (History)

      Regardless the patent puerility of the US gov’s censorship of Wiki Leaks a la a certain government in South Eurasia, if the intent of the US gov’t is to prevent US employees from discussing/confirming said material then do not the ‘stylistic’ endeavorers of this site in order to circumvent government policy run in the same, or at least in a parallel, vein as Wiki Leaks itself. By that, I mean to say not technically illegal, but frustrating enough for the government to call it such and exert pressure to isolate said site from web hosters and credit card agencies.

      The free flow of information in this brave new world brings no end of ills to those who view sensitive information as a privilege of the nation state. I do not begrudge this site for doing what it feels it must do, but I can not help but point out the apparent contradictions of its course of action.

  16. someguy (History)

    Did you mean you won’t use the dreaded NOF*RN in posts – other than THIS one? 😉

  17. Kevin (History)

    Azr@el, MaroB et al –

    Presumably Jeffrey and the other ACW bloggers want to influence government decisions. Presumably, too, the nongovernmental types (who add TREMENDOUS VALUE to the discussions on this blog, by the way) also want to influence official policy. This means reaching dot gov and dot mil types, unless you aspire to the echo chamber and only wish to talk amongst yourselves.

    Bottom line is that –for those that fit the bill above, and I assume this includes you — it seems to be against your own self interest to argue in favor of posting unedited wikileaks blogs, with portion markings, etc, — because this approach would minimize your exposure to the very people you are trying to reach. Would someone connect those dots for me? I’m apparently not clever enough.

  18. 3.1415 (History)

    Classified information that is already compromised should automatically lose its classified status. If the Government cannot do that after so many days, it is beating the wrong dead horse. With or without Assange or even Wikileaks, the leaked information is gone to the public. The more the Government is trying to beat the dead horse, the more incentive there will be for someone else to leak. The S and N level essays will not do any serious harm. If a fancy restaurant put too many people to swat a fly that very occasionally makes a buzz or two, the owner of the restaurant will very quickly find himself now associated with the fly-swatting business, not the chic place that it used to be. This is the same with Assange or Bin Laden. They just use different insects to annoy the restaurant. The sad thing is that this once chic restaurant is now selling all sorts of insect repellents, first at the door, now at the hallway. And it’s telling the chefs not to talk about it. How long can it keep the customers?

    • John Schilling (History)

      There are degrees of compromise, so it is not necessarily the case that anything which is “compromised” should lose its classified status. If the USAF’s new warp drive space bomber with cloaking device is revealed by an anonymous poster on an Area-51 conspiracy theorist web site, it may still be worth keeping it off the front page of the New York Times.

      But that’s not really the point. Even if a bit of now-public classified knowledge *should* be declassified, it cannot *automatically* be declassified. How would that work, exactly? An omniscient supercomputer coupled to a ubiquitous global surveillance system that constantly compares the contents of all classified documents with open-source media discussion and updates the classification status accordingly? Declassification is, aside from the trivial case of “classified until date X”, something that requires deliberate human action and will thus lag whatever event prompts the change in status.

      Detection of classified information on a .gov or .mil computer, that actually *can* be automated in some cases. Thus, even if the government does adopt the (silly) policy of declassifying anything that has appeared on Wikileaks, there will still be the problem of not-yet-declassified material being found on .gov and .mil computers while the declassification process is underway someplace far away.

      This does not lead to the local security desk conducting its own independent, ad-hoc declassification review and saying “this is harmless classified stuff, ignore it”. They don’t have the time, authority, or knowledge to do that. The only thing that can happen, if actual secrets are to be safeguarded, is to say “this is marked classified, nobody has authoritatively told us it isn’t classified any more, nuke the hard drive and restore from last week’s backup”.

      That’s a monumental hassle for someone who was expecting to get back to work right after browsing ACW, and it is quite appropriate for our esteemed host to try and prevent such disruption.

  19. P.E.T. (History)

    So many experts of classified information with so little knowledge of the subject matter.

    • Anon (History)

      Yeah — Good thing we have you around to make substantive comments!

  20. P.E.T. (History)

    “Yeah — Good thing we have you around to make substantive comments!”

    I rest my case…yeah.

    • Anon (History)

      Kindly continue resting.

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