Monday, July 03, 2006

Declassifying national secrets for political gain.

If you've been paying attention, you know that the Bush Administration has been very protective of classified materials, except when their release is to its benefit. Think, for example, of Valerie Plame. According to Murray Waas (via TPMmuckraker), "Bush . . . told federal prosecutors during his June 24, 2004, interview in the Oval Office that he had directed Cheney . . . to disclose highly classified intelligence information that would not only defend his administration but also discredit [former Ambassador Joe] Wilson." Bush told Fitzpatrick that he was unaware that Cheney directed Scooter Libby to covertly leak the material rather than declassifying it.

On other occasions, the Vice President used the administrative declassification procedures to cherry-pick secrets for public consumption. Ron Suskind gives an example:
In mid-November 2004, a few weeks after the President's reelection, one of [CIA analytical chief Jami] Miscik's deputies returned from briefing the Vice President. He had a request for her. Cheney wanted a portion of a particular CIA report declassified and made public. Miscik knew the report -- it was about the complex, often catalytic connections between the war in Iraq and the wider war against terrorism. The item the Vice President wanted declassified was a small part that might lead one to believe that the war was helping the broader campaign against violent jihadists. The report, she knew, concluded nothing of the sort. Many of its conclusions flowed in the opposite direction. To release that small segment would be willfully misleading. She told the briefer to tell Cheney that she didn't think that was such a good idea.

The Vice President expressed his outrage to Porter Goss. A few days later, a call came from Goss's office. The call had been placed by one of Goss's executive assistants . . . . The deputy expressed the DCI's displeasure. He urged Miscik to reconsider. He described Goss's position succinctly: "Saying no to the Vice President is the wrong answer."

* * * * *

"Actually," she replied, "sometimes saying no to the Vice President is what we get paid for."

She hung up and fired off a memo to Goss, saying -- she later recalled -- that "this was just the sort of thing that had gotten us into trouble, time and again, over the past few years. Telling only half the story, the part that makes us look good, and keeping the rest classified. Eventually it comes out and it looks bad, real bad, and we lose moral capital."

A few days later, Miscik got word, again from a Goss deputy, that the DCI would reluctantly support her decision. A few weeks after that, she was gone. "It was only a matter of time at that point," she recalled.

Her memo -- a summation of a long-standing school of thought of which she is one of countless adherents -- is, of course, classified. That means, by accepted definitions of such things, that its release would compromise the security of the nation. Indeed.
Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine 340-41 (Simon & Schuster 2006).

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