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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Filed Under: access, overclassification, secrecy, top secret


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  1. icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 19 Jun 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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