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July 24, 2004

Jonah Goldberg on Sandy Berger

Good piece, worth reading, with a couple of complaints.

1) I grow tired of our conservative brethren making pussy arguments-in-the-alternative, as Goldberg does here. You know this argument: "Even if Sandy Berger did 'inadvertently' take these documents, it still shows a reckless disregard for security."

Can we, like, knock it off with this fucking bullshit? We all know it's a goddamned lie that he "inadvertently" took any fucking thing. So let's not make the liberals' case for them by suggesting, with a straight face, that jeepers, maybe he did "inadvertently" stuff codeword-clearance documents down his shorts and walk out with them (and then, ahem, "inadvertently discard" some of them).

Stop paying lip service to these ridiculous alibis. It only emboldens the liberal media to begin treating these outlandish fictions as plausible. After all, if even Jonah Goldberg of NRO thinks this is possible, who's to say Berger is being less than forthright?

Here's the plot, guys:

He lied.

He stole the documents deliberately.

We don't know his motive for this theft, but there is no possible innocent motive for stealing the documents.

Proceed from there.

2) Goldberg calls the documents in question "'password' class documents." Maybe I'm out of the loop on security jargon, but I've always heard it as "codeword-clearance documents."

In case you don't know, secrets are organized into three general strata:

Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. (Most Secret for the British, who have to be fairies even when naming security classifications.) (Thanks to Tom-- I called the "Confidential" classification "Classified." Inadvertently, of course.)

Except here's the thing: None of that bullshit is really all that secret. It's stamped "confidential" or "secret," but that stuff is really on the very bottom of the secrecy mountain. The really important secrets begin after Top Secret.

FBI agents are Top Secret cleared, so they could, I guess, see most Top Secret information they requested. They have a general security clearance to see Top Secret materials.

But the really important stuff is called "codeword-clearance;" and there is no general clearance to see such materials. You have to be specifically clerared to read specific documents.

Different but related secrets are grouped into families, I guess you'd call them, and if you are high-enough ranking and deemed trustworthy enough and you specifically need to know those secrets to do your job, you're cleared for that family of secrets. (Tom, in the comments, says that codeword-clearance isn't a separate classification per se, but is rather a limitation to the other classifications. So classified information may be deemed Secret-Codeword or Top Secret-Codeword.)

So, if you're working on WMD tips in Fallujah, that might be called Voodoo Lightning, and only persons cleared to see Voodoo Lightning documents can see them. Someone might outrank you in the heirarchy -- he might even be the Undersecretary of Defense -- but if he isn't himself Voodoo Lightning cleared, you can't tell him anything about Voodoo Lightning. Even if he orders you to.

There's a bit about that in the movie Enigma, where an Admiral asks the hero how they broke the Enigma code, and the hero just says, "I can't tell you that." On the other hand, a mere lieutenant serving with him is Ultra-cleared (Ultra being the codeword for the secret techniques of breaking Enigma), so he can share information with him. Only those who absolutely need-to-know get cleared to see the information; that limits the number of people who could spill the beans. (Geoff, in the comments, points out that even when you're codeword-cleared, there may be some secrets in that area you're not privy to; utimately, it's all need to know. Enigma also showed this, as the lieutenant was generally privy to Ultra secrets -- like the fact they were using the German Weather Codes as a backdoor or "crib" into Enigma -- but he didn't know the Great Big Super Secret of Ultra, that they were using a primative computer, which they called a "bombe," to mechanically break the codes.)

At any rate, I've never heard it called "password" clearance, but I only know what I read in books and see in the movies. Maybe that's the hip new way to refer to it; I know jargon changes in organizations.

The main take-away from this digression is that the stuff Sandy Berger stole -- and that is the right word -- was some pretty high-security shit. If it were just "Classified" or "Secret" documents, we might make some allowances, knowing that such documents aren't really very well protected secrets. But these were codeword-clearance documents, so these really were genuine secrets with genuinely high security guarding their dissemination.

So How Come We Never Hear About Codeword-Clearance Secrets? Because the codewords themselves are codeword-clearance. You have to be Ultra-cleared to even be told that Ultra is the codeword for the techniques of breaking the Enigma code.

Pat Monynihan was on 60 Minutes one time and he dismissed all secrets of Top Secret or less as not secret at all. The interviewer (maybe Steve Krofft) asked him, "Okay, what are the real secrets called then? To which Monynihan just said, "I can't tell you. What they're called is itself a secret."

Interesting Bit of Trivia: Tom points out that the "juiciest" secrets -- by which I think he means the most interesting to actually know -- are actually often of a lower-classification, like Confidential or Secret, while the very top classifications are reserved for those old "sources and methods." He says that the very Top Secret-codeword stuff is often boring, at least in the SIGINT field he worked in, because it's mostly dry technical-method material.

Kind of interesting. Makes sense: What you know has to be shared with more people, and so it often is less restricted. On the other hand, how you came to know it doesn't need to be shared with anyone outside of those doing the actual collection, so it's often of a higher classification level.

Plus, it's more important in the sense that it's not just a fish, it's a fruitful method of fishing, and as long as you keep your secret fishing technique from the enemy, you'll have further fish in the future.

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posted by Ace at 12:42 AM

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