Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Friday, June 02, 2006

"That's Classified!"

Almost daily we read about national security and classified information in the newspapers or see and hear about it in broadcasts. What was Valerie Plame's job with the CIA? What about NSA conducting warrantless electronic surveillances against US citizens in the US?

The usual answer? "Can't talk about it. National security. (Loud harrumph!) Classified, you know."

Actually, many people don't know. What the heck is national security information? Just what does "classified information" really mean?

Now and again a droll, boring military manual serves the public well as a primer about some esoteric topic. And surely manuals written for lawyers must be near the top of drollness and boringness. Still, here's one worth looking at.

The Judge Advocate's Handbook for Litigating National Security Cases - Prosecuting, Defending, and Adjudicating National Security Cases

Clearly this manual is written as a guide for military lawyers, not for US Attorneys, but the fundamental definitions apply to both. Thankfully, the basic information that will be of some interest to most readers is in Chapters One and Two.

Chapter One answers questions such as

  • What is classified information?
  • What is the substance of classified information?
  • What are classification markings, what do they really mean, and how are they applied?
  • Who has classification authority? (Yes, the Vice President does have it.)

Chapter Two makes the distinction between compartmented information and classified information. It explains

  • Special Access Programs (SAP)
  • Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI)
  • SCI Control Systems

The explanations are remarkably clear and easily understood. That's odd since it is, after all, a US government-produced manual.


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