Recently, a sub-contractor for the National Security Agency, in Georgia, posted a classified document on social media, and she is now under arrest for disclosing classified information. Edward Snowden, who stole voluminous information, on multiple laptop computers, a few years ago, was also a NSA sub-contractor—employed by an outside corporation, working on behalf of the intelligence agency.
Journalists often overlook key points, especially when reporting on specific technical topics, such as: monetary policy; the Iran Nuclear Agreement; Constitutional Law; or National Security. For instance, several years ago, it was reported that retired General David Petreus had provided his biographer, a former Army officer, with numerous classified documents. I recall, at least one reporter, suggesting that the biographer had a security clearance, since she had been a military officer. Nonsense!
When someone acquires a security clearance, they go through a short “briefing”, which is little more than signing a form, by which he or she affirms (something to the effect) that they will neither divulge any classified information, nor provide any documents, to anyone, except in the normal course of their job. Also, when they leave the agency or department, they are de-briefed, which again is little more than signing a form whereby they acknowledge that their clearance has been revoked, they no longer have access to classified information, and the same basic provisions still apply.
Now, there are three primary points to keep in mind as your listen to media accounts regarding classified information:
1. Having had a clearance does not carry any rights, with regard to future classified information. So, a former colleague, biographer, or employee is/was not entitled to classified information, in any way, shape or form. If called upon, say in case of a national emergency, normal briefing and de-briefing procedures would apply.
2. Clearances do not come in a one-size-fits-all package. There are the three basic ones: “CONFIDENTIAL”; “SECRET” and “TOP SECRET”, which signify the level of sensitivity. When I worked at the Army Security Agency (which has a “dotted line” to NSA), any of those clearances wouldn’t have gotten someone past the MPs’ Desk at the Front Door. There are special “Clearances” required for access to certain information, which require a more in-depth understanding of the specific type of intelligence.
3. And, on top of that, access to any specific information whatsoever, also requires a “Need to Know”. For instance, someone who has all of the clearances and accesses for a type of intelligence, but is not involved in a particular operation, has no reason to have access to information—classified or not—regarding that operation. Basically, Intelligence is compartmentalized, in order to reduce the number of persons with access to specific information. That compartmentalization reduces the risk of unauthorized disclosure.
NOTE: The de-briefing forms will be linked to my next pos!