Campaign 2010

Jun 24, 2004

Secrecy Czar

Jack Shafer, Slate :

In a little-noticed mid-June speech, secrecy czar J. William Leonard fretted over signs of a breakdown of the classification system for national security.

Leonard heads the Information Security Oversight Office, the National Archives branch that develops classification and declassification policies at the behest of the president. In his talk, given at a classification training seminar, Leonard complains that the system has lost touch with the “basics”: Some agencies don’t know how much information they classify; they don’t know whether they’re classifying more than they once did or less; they don’t know whether they’re classifying too much or too little; and they don’t know whether they’re classifying material for too long a period or too short.



Leonard attributes what he calls an “epidemic” of leaks to the press to the dysfunctional classification system, which has recently taken to using the war as an “excuse to disregard the basics of the security classification system.” Leaks are coming out of the “highest levels of our government” (the Valerie Plame affair); a former Cabinet secretary is alleged to have handed off classified material to a book author for publication, and the classification machine is operating so poorly down at Guantanamo Bay that a chaplain was publicly charged with pilfering secrets on his computer and then released.

“The problem [Leonard] has identified is that the currency of classification is being devalued by questionable, sometimes suspiciously self-serving secrecy actions,” writes Aftergood in e-mail. “This produces an erosion of security discipline, which in turn fosters an environment in which leaks are more likely to come about. The net result is bad security policy and bad public policy.”

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