NSA Says Secrets It Leaked To The Press Are Too Secret To Be Disclosed Publicly

from the sorry,-only-anonymous-officials-are-allowed-to-cause-exceptionally-grave-damage dept

Steven Aftergood of FAS Secrecy News went searching for an answer to an almost-unanswerable conundrum. And he got the most nonanswer-like answer imaginable.

As we all know, there are two kinds of leaks: the one the government approves of, utilizing anonymous officials, and everything else. Aftergood wanted to know more about these authorized leaks, in which classified information is handed over to journalists, etc. in response to queries, usually with several stipulations attached. It happens so often there's even a provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act, which gives the NSA and others the funds and permission to keep doing what they're doing.

In the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2013 (sec. 504), Congress directed that “In the event of an authorized disclosure of national intelligence” to the media, the government official responsible for authorizing the disclosure shall notify Congress in a timely fashion whenever the intelligence disclosed is classified (or declassified for the purpose of the disclosure).

The purpose of that requirement was to ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are made aware of authorized disclosures to the press “so that, among other things, these authorized disclosures may be distinguished from unauthorized ‘leaks’,” according to the Senate report on the FY2013 intelligence bill.
There's a report out there that details all of the authorized disclosures of classified information to press members who are decidedly not cleared to receive classified documents. This authorized release of classified document generates it own oxymoron.
The notion of an authorized disclosure of classified information is close to being a contradiction in terms. If something is classified, how can its disclosure be authorized (without declassification)? And if something is disclosed by an official who is authorized to do so, how can it still be classified? And yet, it seems that there is such a thing.
Knowing that a.) this happens and b.) a report is generated when it occurs, Aftergood requested a copy of these authorized disclosure reports. The answer he received defies logic in only the way a secretive bureaucracy can. [pdf]
“The document responsive to your request has been reviewed by this Agency as required by the FOIA and has been found to be currently and properly classified in accordance with Executive Order 13526,” according to an October 2 letter signed by retiring NSA FOIA chief Pamela N. Phillips. “The document is classified because its disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”
The stuff we already disclosed is too dangerous to disclose.

And yet, the government -- when it serves its interests -- will "cause exceptionally grave damage to national security" by handing classified information over to press members willing to carry its narrative water.
One of the biggest open secrets in Washington is that, despite officialdom’s intensive efforts to demonize whistleblowers like former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, the vast majority of disclosures of secret information are not “leaks” but “pleaks” — a term Columbia Law Professor David E. Pozen coined to describe something that is more like an official “plant” than a “leak.”

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were particularly adept at selectively disclosing secret intelligence findings that served their agenda – even while aggressively asserting the need to keep secret the information that would damage them.
We saw evidence of this most recently when the government tried to head off The Intercept's publication of leaked terrorist watchlist documents by leaking its own version to the Associated Press shortly before the Intercept piece went live.

It's ridiculous for the government to claim documents leaked from unauthorized sources are somehow still secret even though the public has access to them. For it to make the same claim for documents it selectively chose to "leak" is preposterous and highly hypocritical. Aftergood and FAS have appealed this decision, stating, “It is well established that information, including classified information, that has been publicly disclosed on an authorized basis loses its exemption from disclosure under FOIA."

Whether or not this will have any effect on the NSA remains to be seen. But so far, the only proven method to obtaining documents from the highly-secretive agency seems to result in Russian exile.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 10 Oct 2014 @ 8:56am

    The stuff we already disclosed is too dangerous to disclose.


    Terrorists only listen to govt approved sources so it makes sense. If it was a slip or an authorized leak it actually doesn't matter. No evil terrorist reads anything other than Govt released documents through democratic channels.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 10 Oct 2014 @ 9:37am

    “The document responsive to your request has been reviewed by this Agency as required by the FOIA and has been found to be currently and properly classified in accordance with Executive Order 13526,” according to an October 2 letter signed by retiring NSA FOIA chief Pamela N. Phillips. “The document is classified because its disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”

    English Translation:

    Many of the documents you think were actual leaks were actually nothing but propaganda and diversionary tactics. If you are able to determine what we leaked, you may be able to determine what we were trying to hide at the time. So, take your request and shove it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ambrellite (profile), 10 Oct 2014 @ 3:12pm

      Re:

      That's a good point. Finding out that the list of "official" leaks doesn't match the leaks sourced to anonymous government officials would indicate congress was not informed of the authorization, so the material leaked was either a) false b) unauthorized or c) authorized but not disclosed to congress.

      None of those would reflect well on the executive branch, and a combination of all three of those possibilities is highly likely.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2014 @ 5:57pm

        Re: Re:

        So let us assume that the NSA is actually competent. They would be able to prevent leaks unless they wanted something leaked. So it follows that all leaks are intentional.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2014 @ 10:20am

    Authorized "leaks" serve two main purposes: as a tool to push the President's agenda, and as a reward for a newspaper's or journalist's loyalty and obedience.

    Needless to say, the public does not benefit from either instance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 10 Oct 2014 @ 10:32am

    "exceptionally grave damage to the national security"
    I don't believe they even know what five of those words mean any more.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2014 @ 10:49am

    NSA's version of Russell's Paradox

    Defn. of Redacted. See [redacted].

    NSA certainly does understand the irony; they have lots of mathematicians & computer scientists.

    "The barber is a man in town who shaves all those, and only those, men in town who do not shave themselves."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barber_paradox

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_pa radox

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2014 @ 11:02am

    America's legal system is similar to China's 'one country two systems' policy.

    In America has one legal system, buy two types of enforcement.

    One type of enforcement is for common folks, with no money or power. These folks go to prison for a very long time over the most trivial of crimes.

    The second type of enforcement is for rich and powerful folks. Enforcement under this sytem is almost never applied to any of these individuals. Even if they lie in front of Congress under oath on nation television.

    We're simply copying China's 'one x two y' system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2014 @ 11:06am

    "The purpose of that requirement was to ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are made aware of authorized disclosures to the press “so that, among other things, these authorized disclosures may be distinguished from unauthorized ‘leaks’,” according to the Senate report on the FY2013 intelligence bill."

    2013 - The most transparent government ever: How else will they know when there is a whistle-blower to prosecute?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Oct 2014 @ 12:49pm

    Turn Around

    My dad, who did Marine UDT (SEAL precursor frog-man) spec-ops in the fifties, Army counter-intelligence in Germany in the sixties, and Airborne Ranger counter-insurgency spec-ops in the South East Asian "police actions" of the seventies used to say, "listen to what the State Department says - then turn 180 degrees, and you'll be starin' Truth square in the face." I have since come to the conclusion that you may reliably substitute any government agency name in place of "State Department."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 10 Oct 2014 @ 2:33pm

    HUH?

    If I leak the info I go to jail.

    If YOU leak the info then all you have to do is NOT tell Congressional Oversight because it's TOO secret to tell them who you told the secret to?

    I weep for our national security.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anony Mouse, 11 Oct 2014 @ 12:29am

    What we won't tell

    Sure we leaked it (or pleaked, if you must). Yes, of course it was authorized.
    But we are not going to reveal that authorization to just anyone. That would be telling.
    Confusion to our enemies!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Christopher (profile), 11 Oct 2014 @ 5:57pm

    None of what happened here makes any sense at all if the purpose of classification is to protect information that might damage national security if it were disclosed.

    It makes perfect sense and is entirely consistent if the purpose of classification is to allow the government to more easily control its own PR campaigns.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 11 Oct 2014 @ 11:57pm

    Twisty beggars aint they....

    Gods, how I hate dealing with these eavesdroppers from hell.

    I think what the NSA is actually saying, is that if they were to allow a list of the specific "pleaked" documents to fall into the hands of the public, then the public would know which "pseudo-truths" had been officially planted into the NEWS, and could therefor make educated guesses at which "facts" the "pleaks" were intended to "spin" and exactly what that spin was intended to accomplish.

    Thus, while the "pleaked" documents are themselves no longer classified due to their being officially released, and currently part of public awareness, the exact identity of the specific "pleaked" documents is classified to keep the public in the dark about what areas of information the government wants to alter public perceptions of through "pleaking".

    Allowing the disclosure of the identity of the myriad specific "pleaks", would render the purpose - public disinformation - of the "pleaks", ineffective.

    In other words, some of your tax money is being used to allow the government to legally twist reality in order to sway public perception in ways that benefit the government, (and/or some friendly corporations) and they have interpreted a law so that it lets them keep the identity of those specific lies, a secret.

    Nothing new here.

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ian, 12 Oct 2014 @ 7:17am

    Umm...

    Isn't that the entire POINT of secrets?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      GEMont (profile), 13 Oct 2014 @ 3:36am

      Re: Umm...

      "Isn't that the entire POINT of secrets?"

      Yeah, I guess so.

      But is that what the members of a democratic country pay their government to do?

      Disseminate half truths and lies as news and misinform the public secretly, using the public's money and the Once Free Press to pull it off and then call it all legal, and claim its for the safety of the nation?

      If it is, then democracy is just another lie we tell ourselves to help us sleep better at night and we might as well just hitch up our britches and gird our loins for another millennia of biblical hell on earth.

      After all, about 99% of human history reads like a horror story, with the rich landowners and friends of the hereditary ruling caste enslaving the rest of the human race for fun and profit, when they're not throwing a war to cull the excess slaves from the herd.

      This wee blip of peaceful coexistence and almost-justice is probably just an anomaly - a peculiar bump in the road of human existence that is inevitably guaranteed to come to an abrupt end very soon, and allow the usual state of human affairs to continue as usual.

      ----

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael Price, 14 Oct 2014 @ 5:00am

    Not what we disclosed, but that we disclosed it.

    "The stuff we already disclosed is too dangerous to disclose. "
    No, the fact that we disclosed it, when and why is too dangerous to national security. If people found out what we were exposing and why they would not be confident telling our intelligence agencies anything. They would know it would be on the front page of the NYT if someone found it convenient.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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