January 30, 2016–The spokesman’s statement was redundant. “Overclassification” means crazy, excessive secrecy. To say that it “ran amok” is repetitious. Brian Fallon, Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson, nevertheless had a point–and you read it here, first. Last August, as a matter of fact (in “Hillary’s Emails: Bursting the Secrecy Bubble,” August 22, 2015). The State Department announced on Friday that twenty-two of the Hillary Clinton emails examined by authorities contained information graded “TOP SECRET” or above. Those emails will now be separated from the court-ordered release of Clinton electronic messages and made secret. Guess what? That’s a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.
We are close to six months after the piece in this space, cited above, predicted that secrecy authorities would comb over the Clinton email, find things they prefer not be out, and try and squelch public distress by means of imposing secrecy. Well, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) inspector general I. Charles McCullough, III, has done just that. The 22 emails are his hit list, possibly (but perhaps not) approved by Fearful Leader James Clapper, the man who issued an official ODNI directive designating officers of the United States intelligence community as the greatest threat to national security the U.S. faces.
In an interview last week on National Public Radio, Hillary Clinton commented on one of the TOP SECRET messages, one that informed her about an article on the drone war that was appearing in the New York Times. “How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off the New York Times website, I think, is one of the difficulties people have in understanding what this is about.”
Just so. But ODNI’s hit on Clinton is a real one. It happens this way: there are plenty of things ODNI–or the CIA, or the NSA–don’t want out in public. In their secrecy game, if ODNI (or one of the others) do not themselves declassify information, then it’s still secret, even if everybody in the world knows it. So if the Times gets a leak and prints it, the newspaper is dealing in secret information. Meanwhile, government officials need to know what’s in the papers so they can respond when the media or the public asks about it.
It’s perfectly understandable that someone sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an email containing the text of what the Times had reported, including whatever ODNI or anyone else deemed to be TOP SECRET. Right now you can go to the State Department’s Electronic Reading Room and see precisely equivalent messages that have since been released: to the U.S. Ambassador in Thailand warning the Times had the CIA black prison story; to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice containing the text of the Times story reporting that CIA officer Jose Rodriguez had ordered the secret destruction of videotapes that were evidence in a criminal case. You can easily imagine other examples that should be there–like the cables that must have flown around when the press reported that an American sought by Pakistani authorities for killing Pakistani citizens in a street incident was linked to the CIA.
So, let’s call a spade a spade–what just happened was that the spooks coerced the State Department into invoking secrecy, casting a cloak of classification, over material that was not designated secret by an “original classification authority”–as per government regulation–that had been in the public domain for many months, and that is subject to a court order compelling its release. As Barry Goldwater once said about CIA lies over Nicaragua, “This is no way to run a railroad!”
Last August I gave other recent examples of officials hoist on the petard of secrecy rules–and made the point that the officials against whom the rules are actually enforced–those who pay the price–are the people far down the food chain. The truth is that we are, all of us, being hurt by secrecy run amok. When the country reaches the point when officials cannot do their jobs without criminal violation of secrecy regulations, then it’s time for the regulations to change, not time to throw Hillary in jail. While we’re at it, it is time to understand that the security services have ceased being arbiters of necessary secrecy–if they ever were–and have become information manipulators seeking political, and other, advantages.