July 25, 2005

A Moral Obligation

If you haven't looked into it yet, Media Matters explains what it means to sign Standard Form 312 (SF 312), which is the standard non-disclosure agreement signed by government employees and private contractors in the process of getting clearance to view classified information. Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and anyone who qualifies as a "senior administration official" has signed it.

It also happens to be the same form signed by uniformed military personnel, and I asked an officer currently serving in the Northwest what that meant to their job.

Firstly, while classified documents are always marked as such, there's also a responsibility for members of the military with clearance to be aware of what constitutes derivative classification. If you know several classified or sensitive facts that build up to a classified picture overall, that derivative abstract is itself classifed, even if it isn't written in a marked document.

While the officer hadn't run into anyone asking them for confirmation of classifed data, they said it was their understanding that any known or suspected breach of security should get reported immediately to the Security Information Officer and that this was the only action they were aware would be appropriate. It was explained that this was every bit as much to protect the classified information itself as it was to protect yourself from being charged with violating security.

When someone in the military has possession of a classified document, they are absolutely responsible for it at all times. If it's lost, or even left unattended, this constitutes a violation of security that can result in losing your career if it goes unreported. Everyone who has access to such documents must sign the documents' "chain of receipt" every time they're accessed. Every time a safe containing such documents are opened, there's a signature and a time stamp.

Military personnel also not authorized to share information with individuals who have security clearance, but don't need to know that information. The officer said that even a general, who would have higher clearance, doesn't have the right to go up to anyone's desk and demand to see classified information just because they want to.

A severe unintentional mishap made in the protection of classified information, especially if left unreported, can land military personnel in jail. Which is to say that even without any deliberate intent, a failure to respect the seriousness of the information they're told to protect can be punished with anything between firing and jail.

During the interview, the officer mentioned several times the "legal and moral" obligation to protect classified information. It could have been one word, legalandmoral, for the purposes of the conversation. The officer explained that integrity was incredibly important in the service, and that it meant "doing the right thing, even when no one is looking." The officer said it meant that you report your mistakes even when you don't think anyone knows.

Compare at will with the irresponsible behavior by members of the Bush White House towards classified information and the attitude of their Republican apologists to that of run-of-the-mill military personnel. Yet more proof that notoriety and big checks make people "great" like going to church on occasion makes them "good."

Posted by natasha at July 25, 2005 04:13 PM | War on Terrorism | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

This is the Bush administration. That is what these folks do.

In another context Marshall McLuhan said (speaking about the unanticipated consequences of technology)::

To raise a moral complaint about this is like cussing a buzz-saw for lopping off fingers.

Posted by: degustibus at July 25, 2005 06:32 PM