How Overclassification Makes Secrets Less Likely To Remain Secret

from the doing-it-wrong dept

There's a really good point in a recent Washington Post article talking about how nearly 4 million people have top secret clearance in the US these days. The problem isn't necessarily that so many people are given that clearance, but that so many people need to be given that clearance because the US government reflexively overclassifies things, meaning that basic banal office work sometimes can't get done unless you hire "low level" people with top secret clearance:
One reason for this trend is that the U.S. government has become so reflexive about classifying information, much of which is not nearly as sensitive as an NSA spying program, that clearance are required even for totally banal work.

One effect of this classification of nearly everything, and subsequent granting of clearances to nearly everyone, is that all it takes is one or two loose cannons among those 4 million clearance-holders to spill out government secrets.
As many people have pointed out, both Ed Snowden and Bradley Manning were relatively "low level" employees, but had access to all sorts of classified materials. While some spin around and attack them, given just how many people have top secret clearance and access to these materials, it's quite likely that this information has already spread widely -- including to foreign governments. I'd much rather these things be discussed in public and via the press, than finding out later that they were just passed along to foreign governments. If the content of these classified files is really so secret and sensitive to national security, then the government needs a better way of handling that information.

As it stands, the overclassification of files leads to more people needing top secret clearance, and that means about 4 million with such clearance, including all sorts of low level employees, doing basic office work, including "packing and shipping." And, rather than keeping that material secret, by exposing it to so many more people, this overclassification is almost guaranteeing that the content is less secret.


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    out_of_the_blue, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 7:23am

    As usual, Misunderstander Mike misunderstands purpose.

    Secrecy in the modern era is to be total, regardless whether effective. It's just one aspect of the surveillance state -- and not incidentally, expands "law" to cover nearly all information.

    In the short term, it gives witlings the notion that they're important, "insiders", and so they go along. In fact, those are the most compartmentalized people, who don't see the big picture of the surveillance state taking over. -- Or even if do, are prohibited from spreading the alarm.

    And so what Mike misses is that secrecy has NOTHING to do with "security", everything to do with the expanding STATE.

     

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      Joseph Roberts, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 8:28am

      Re: As usual, Misunderstander Mike misunderstands purpose.

      If you want to classify more things in order to impress people, you can still give them a less classified status. There are levels of classification for a reason.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 8:29am

      Re: As usual, Misunderstander Mike misunderstands purpose.

      Would you PLEASE ban this idiot for life? Really, letting worthless asshole out_of_the_blue speak serves no purpose whatsoever.

       

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        The Old Man in The Sea, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 9:19am

        Re: Re: As usual, Misunderstander Mike misunderstands purpose.

        Has anyone noticed how OOTB has been slowly progressing downhill in his writing patterns recently.

        I think there is something wrong here and he may have recently suffered some kind of brain injury. If anyone knows him personally, you might want to get him to a doctor and get him checked out. Particularly getting him checked for possible stroke, it is very insidious and not necessarily noticed by the victim.

        I have had some dealings with people who have suffered brain trauma and it really seems like this may have happened to him. It can be quite distressing to the person involved.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 7:36am

    how about looking at things the other way, and try not having so many secrets in the first place??

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 7:52am

      Re:

      One role of secrets is to make politicians feel important, because then then know thing that the public does not. That is why top-secret is the lowest classification of secrets, this allow the politicians to feel important without risking the stuff that really does need to be kept secret.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 10:27am

        Re: Re:

        Not quite. There are three levels of classification and clearances.
        1. Confidential - boring.
        2. Secret - slightly less boring and easily attained.
        3. Top Secret - more involved to attain, only gives access to Top Secret material on a need to know basis.

        So Top Secret is the highest level of classification. Of course, there may be a higher, undocumented classification, but you'd have to have a Top to know about it.

         

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          Dirkmaster (profile), Jun 19th, 2013 @ 11:52am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Well, actually, there are many levels ABOVE TS, most used for clarification for who has a "need to know". So maybe it's right to say three, but the top one is further subdivided. Many of these subdivisions have been revealed over the years (but since I can't remember which have and haven't, I ain't naming any)

          Or at least, that's how it was when I was in the Navy.

           

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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), Jun 19th, 2013 @ 7:46am

    If everyone is special, then no one is.

    I suggest issuing top secret clearance to every citizen, but then we'd all be subjected to Orwellian double-think where you're not allowed to acknowledge the facts in front of you.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 7:47am

    "including to foreign governments."

    You make the assumption the government isn't working with foreign governments for a common cause (to further empower and enrich government and industry at public expense). These secretes aren't designed to be kept from governments and corporate entities they are designed to be kept from the public because the public knowing about them would result in public disapproval.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 7:58am

    4 million people is 1.33333% of the US population

    Somehow I doubt it's really secret in the first place if 1.33333% of the population already knew about it.

     

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    Kevin L (profile), Jun 19th, 2013 @ 8:05am

    Classification is outdated

    One commonality between Snowden and Manning was they both had access to IT infrastructure where classified material was sent in the open. If the DoD were serious about secrets, they would develop their own Linux variant with strong, default end-to-end encryption using the already-existing PKI that covers almost every government employee. That would make it much harder for system admins to see documents they have no "need to know." It might also reduce their reliance on extraordinarily expensive encryption hardware, which of course might not be palatable to those defense contractors.

     

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    peter, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 8:25am

    If you think that's bad

    You should see the utter trivia which falls under the ITAR regulations. Classified a 'munition /dual use technology' and almost treated as if it was secret includes, a battery charger, an RS232 cable,a truck engine.

    ITAR, America's joke on the world.

     

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    peter, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 8:30am

    If you think that's bad

    You should see the utter trivia which falls under the ITAR regulations. Classified a 'munition /dual use technology' and almost treated as if it was secret includes, a battery charger, an RS232 cable,a truck engine.

    ITAR, America's joke on the world.

     

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    Lord Binky, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 8:34am

    That's why classification was used as a part of access, the other being need-to-know. Otherwise they just need many many more tiers of classifications to make it work, somewhere around 100 would be a good starting point.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 8:34am

    Do to the reward/punishment structure in place, overclassification is inevitable.

    Overclassification causes little penalty for the worker. It's a little harder to work with but your setup to handle it.

    Under classification causes a huge shit storm that can days to sort out.

    So naturally, shit storms are avoided

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2013 @ 9:43am

    I love it! The call I made to my grandma today is so top secret that if someone at the government leaked it they would face hard time. By the way the call was me getting a recipe for fucking pecan pie which in all fairness is a pretty closely guarded secret in my family. /s

     

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      btrussell (profile), Jun 19th, 2013 @ 11:28am

      Re:

      "By the way the call was me getting a recipe for fucking pecan pie which in all fairness is a pretty closely guarded secret in my family. /s"

      Can't you patent the process of fucking a pecan pie?

      Or does the transition to cream pie negate that?

       

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    Max Deveault (profile), Jun 19th, 2013 @ 9:46am

    Relatively is a big word.

    Network Admin.. low level? Go ahead and land a Network Admin without cognitive experience.

    In order to do their job efficiently, they need access to things and be able to respond to say, Gen Keith Alexander who's precious PRISM documents are not where he left them last.

    Who they gonna call?

    Ghost Busters? b.. please!

    You don't score a 67k avg a year job for no reason ( http://www.indeed.com/salary/q-Network-Administrator-l-United-States.html ). It's an important job that seems to be missunderstood.

    Admittedly, this position is prone to a certain code (ethics) which needs to be there or simply let the industry spy your own turf.

     

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