Sometimes totally different events can be compared. Usually the comparison is more about differences than similarities. Today we will be comparing Daniel Ellsberg, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden. The three men have only a few things in common. First, they are all men. Second, they all held security clearances at one time. Third, they all released classified information. They are also all licensed drivers, but that has less to do with the subject than the fact that only one of them has grey hair.
The subject is, as you might have guessed, the third similarity, releasing classified information. For the record, let me state that with the exception of accidentally mentioning the size of the Syrian Navy at a cocktail party, I have never released, nor do I in any way endorse releasing, classified information. Any statements I make have been officially declassified by the Department of Defense.
How does something get declassified? Glad you asked. It starts with why the item was classified. Once the why is no longer relevant, or the secret is out and publicly verified, the Department of Defense (or whichever authority classified the item in the first place) may declassify it. They may down classify, moving something from Top Secret to Secret, or they may totally declassify, making the item true and verified by the United States Government.
“Wait”, you say, “even after something has been publicly verified it could still be classified?”. That’s right. Because in the world of intelligence, it isn’t true unless the governing authority says that it’s true. At one time I had to declassify a briefing from Top Secret to Secret, so that it could be disseminated to Congress. The acceptable method at the time was to produce two examples of the information that had been published in national periodicals. I used stories from Time and Newsweek, showed that it had already been reported and published, and the briefing was classified Secret. Why? Because providing the information in a briefing to Congress was stating that the information was verified by the Department of Defense. As far as the public was concerned, it was still an unverified report.
So let’s look at Ellsberg, our apple. Certainly the brightest of the group, PhD from Harvard in Economics. He published the Ellsberg Paradox in 1961 as his doctoral thesis. An excellent commentary on decision making in adverse conditions. Then he found himself in adverse conditions. While working at RAND corporation he contributed to a project concerning the decisions, and the conditions under which they were made, in Vietnam. Although Robert S. McNamara should be applauded for commissioning the project, Ellsberg couldn’t follow why it was classified Top Secret. There was no information about future strategies, techniques, or resources. The document was classified because of what it said about the politicizing of the war in Vietnam. It was the little boy revealing that the Emperor had no clothes, and in this case, the Emperor had the ability to muzzle the little boy. Mr. Ellsberg tried to get members of congress to discuss the “Pentagon Papers”. When they would not bring the issue to the public he gave the papers to New York Times. Maybe he should have read his thesis. Fortunately for Mr. Ellsberg, the government went so far overboard in trying to make a case against a man who surrendered himself to authorities, the judge threw out the case against him.
Next is Bradley Manning, the orangutan. Bradley had at least finished High School, but seems to have had some issues locating a direction for his life. Unable to find a steady job, he joined the army. As Bradley’s case is still being tried, we do not have the perspective of history, but if my opinion matters, I wrote about him here on 4 June. Bradley, as an analyst stationed near Baghdad, found the environment so boring that he became involved with an online “greyhat“, who assisted him in downloading classified material. Bradley then disseminated this material to Julian Assange, who published them on a little known outlet called the World Wide Web. The information consisted of reams of documents, from diplomatic cables to troop movements to intelligence reports and estimates to the identities of resources. When he realized that the World Wide Web happened to be a world wide enterprise, and that his superiors were bound to have facebook accounts, he emailed his sergeant that he was “gender dysporic“, hoping to get moved back to the states. He really should have read Ellsberg’s thesis. He was literally hours too late, not that initiating a medical discharge would have protected him. He released information that has and will continue to cost lives.
So what exactly does Edward Snowden, the helicopter, have to do with these guys? Edward didn’t finish high school, but he was clever enough to find work with Booz Allen Hamilton. Edward found himself, as many do, disillusioned with the procedures used by various agencies that he was contracted with, and decided to talk about it. Edward didn’t say “what”, he said “how”, and “how much” information was being collected from “who” and concerning “who”. You’ve read the stories. He said that the government was collecting specific information that you didn’t know about on you and everyone else. He said he was aware that he was breaking the law and expects prosecution. Let’s say he hopes for prosecution. The released information was classified much like the Pentagon Papers, they didn’t want you to know they were watching you. The reaction by the public has been similar to the reaction at the release of the Pentagon Papers. The reaction of the government has been a little scarier, at least to me. Last night on the evening news it was reported that Edward possesses the identities of over one hundred covert resources. This information is completely out of sync with the information he released. I’m not saying that he could not have had access to it, I’m saying that a guy who says “the government is collecting data on you” is not the same guy who says “and here is a list of people who are spying in a different part of the world for completely different reasons”. What seems infinitely more likely is that a list will be “found” and “returned” to Langley, along with the bullet riddled corpse of Edward, right after his “suicide”, proving that he was unbalanced and dangerous.
The helicopter is more like the apple than it is like the orangutan. You may quote me on that.