Is Snowden an exception? Just think about it in context:

“* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.”

This is from “Top Secret America,” a Washington Post project done by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin in 2010.  Although out of date, the website for this is still up and may have the best information we have. 

If, in 2010, 854,000 people held top secret clearances, even if one allows for many of them never having any “need to know” anything at that level, I wonder how many other “Snowdens” at various levels of the government who do have a “need to know” have shared the secrets entrusted to them with others whose need is much less than the people of the United States.   If only 10%, a percentage I deliberately chose to be low, have a “need to know,” that is 85,400 in 2010.  If 1% of those, a number again chosen to be low, i.e. a low percentage of a low percentage, that would be 854 people in 2010.

What have we learned from all the Snowden coverage about others who may not be sharing information with the public but may be sharing it with others whose interests may not coincide with what we sometimes call “the public’s right to know?” 


Secrecy, the Legitimate Kind

Yesterday Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mullen appealed to the press and any others concerned, to stop discussing publicly the details of the mission to kill or capture* Osama Bin Laden.  Their reason for this appeal was that revelations of the capabilities and characteristics of the people and equipment used, had reduced the potential for future raids of the same kind employing the same or similar resources.

This strikes me as an entirely in the public interest and one of the cases in which classification and government secrecy are fully justified.  That members of the Seal Team are concerned for the safety of their families if their identities become known reinforces my sense that this secrecy is appropriate.  There will ( or should anyway) come a day when this information will be unclassified,  but this is not it.

This is a link to the Washington Post‘s coverage:

Of course I raised this matter to point to what appears to be a rampage of classification being employed by the government to hide legitimate secrets, wasteful management, outright corruption and pursue whistle blowers without addressing whether they meet the standard for whistle blowers set out laws.

In the category of illegitimately classified materials is a document from NSA that, at the time it was shared with a reporter was unclassified but is now classified and being used to against Tom Drake, whose story is covered at length in the New Yorker this week by Jane Mayer.  That is, they are retroactively classifying it.  I commend it to you.

Here is the link to the New Yorker coverage:

*  “Kill or capture” may have been the order.  I don’t know.  I am aware of the debate, both moral and pragmatic about whether Bin Laden should have been killed if he could have been captured and by using this designation do not mean to take sides but simply to describe what I understand is the standard for such missions, whether of local police or presidentially directed units, to get on with addressing the topic of legitimate and illegitimate uses of government secrecy.