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Contentions

Oral Transmission

Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post on a new secrecy policy the Bush administration is introducing. It creates a protected category called “Controlled Unclassified Information” that replaces the confusing “Sensitive but Unclassified.”

The new category is designed to safeguard information that doesn’t rise to the level of “secret” or “top-secret,” but should be kept out of the public domain nonetheless. Things like blueprints for tunnels and bridges that might be of use to terrorists fall under its rubric.

One novel feature of the new regulation is the requirement that, as Pincus explains, “one government official talking to another about information on terrorists will have to begin by saying: ‘What I am about to tell you is controlled unclassified information enhanced with specified dissemination.'”

This is a curious turn that intersects interestingly with the ongoing prosecution of two employees of AIPAC, facing charges of illicitly receiving and transmitting classified information. One of the issues in the case revolves around the fact that no documents changed hands. All of the allegedly classified information the defendants received was conveyed to them in conversation. The defense is claiming that they had no way of knowing what, if anything, was classified in what was given to them.

The new secrecy policy tightens up the secrecy regulations to deal precisely with that kind of situation. It left me wondering whether the step was taken in response to the gap revealed by the AIPAC case.

Pincus says nothing about this. Instead, quite predictably, he quotes two experts mocking the new policy.

Michael Clark, a contributing editor to the blog Daily Kos, who first wrote about the Bush memorandum, said the White House “seems to have used the crafting of new rules as an opportunity to expand the range of government secrecy.” Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, described it as a “not even half-baked” exercise in policymaking.

Also predictably, Pincus quotes no experts from the government or on the side of the government explaining the timing and significance of the new policy.

Connecting the Dots is left wanting to know more — yet another subject to dig into.



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