George W. Bush’s secret vice

I really have no idea whether Bob Graham would make a good President, or even a good candidate, but he does seem to be saying the right things:

Graham alleges a coverup of pre-9/11 failure


DES MOINES – Sen. Bob Graham accused the Bush administration Sunday of covering up its failure to possibly prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by refusing to release the findings of a Graham-led congressional investigation last year.

Graham said on CBS’ Face the Nation program that the administration is not withholding the information to protect national security.

”In fact, a great deal of the information which they want to keep classified has already been released, such as in testimony by CIA and FBI officials in public hearings,” Graham said. “I think what they are shooting at is to cover up the failures that occurred before September the 11th.”

Releasing the report, he said, could help law enforcement prevent another attack.

In an interview later, Graham said, “I think what the administration is concerned about is that we have connected the dots. They don’t want the American people in one document to know and be able to assess and hold accountable the people who were involved in the lead up to September 11.”

Countered White House spokesman Tucker Eskew: “We have been working cooperatively with the joint inquiry from the beginning so that the American people will know what happened. I do not think the American people want anyone in the government to release operational details or sources and methods that could compromise our national security.”

The joint committee was co-chaired by Graham and Rep. Porter Goss. It issued a 900-page report in December that detailed security lapses, poor communication and missteps by the CIA and FBI before Sept. 11.

Since my teaching hobby has begun to interfere seriously with my career as a blogger, in lieu of fresh comment on this I’m going to resort to self-quotation (in somewhat edited form), from a post that is one of my own favorites but which no one, if I recall correctly, picked up on.

Abuse of the classification system to control public debate is pervasive. Only subset of classified material would really be of use to a potential enemy. Additional material is properly classified for “sources and methods” reasons: the information itself isn’t sensitive, but revealing that we know it might reveal where the bug is or which attache is selling us secrets.

But those two categories together do not exhaust what can properly be classified according to the statute. Any information the release of which would tend to impede the foreign policy of the United States is, by law, properly classifiable. So if our current policy is to suck up to the House of Saud, any information, including translations from the Riyadh newspapers, the revelation of which would tend to annoy the Saudis, can be, and almost certainly is being, protected by a “Top Secret” stamp.

I know what I’m talking about; I’ve been there.

When I was young and irresponsible, I had a job at the Justice Department analyzing drug policy. In that capacity, I was put through the full security mumbo-jumbo and received a Top Secret clearance and, on top of that, clearances for various very highly taboo Codeword categories: categories, that is, the very names of which are classified at above the “Top Secret” level. (The initiation ceremony involves being dipped in the blood of … well, I could tell ya, but then I’d have to kill ya.)

Having been cleared, what did I learn that it would then have been a felony for me to reveal? Nothing that would have helped the Russkis or the narco-bad-guys. But I did learn the names of assorted corrupt high-level officials in various of the Carribean banking havens Jeff MacNelly once lampooned as “Rinky-Dink and Tabasco.” No elaborate spying had been required to learn the names; apparently it was routine cafe gossip in the countries involved. So why, I asked, is this material classified? Not that I had any desire to reveal it, but I was curious.

The senior security guy in the Criminal Division set me straight: Yes, everyone knew that the Rinky-Dink-and-Tabasconese Finance Minister, or Central Bank president, or whatever it was, was crookeder than a dog’s hind leg. He knew, we knew, the Prime Minister knew, the Prime Minister knew we knew, we knew he knew we knew, ad infinitum. Maybe the Rinky-Dink-and-Tabasconese voters didn’t know; that was their lookout.

But it was our policy to make nice to Rinky-Dink and Tabasco (honest, I forget which contrylet we were talking about). If it were revealed publicly that the US Government had knowledge that Mr. So-and-so was on the take, that would embarrass the Rinky-Dink-and-Tabasconese government, thus impeding U.S. foreign policy. Ergo, Codeword classified: properly Codeword classified

There’s a story Khruschev used to tell, back when he was General Secretary of the CP-USSR (i.e., dictator). In the story, an Old Bolshevik goes crazy, and runs through the halls of the Kremlin shouting, “Khruschev is a fool! Khruschev is a fool!” Naturally, he’s promptly arrested, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to twenty-three years of corrective labor in Siberia: three years for insulting the Party Secretary, and twenty for revealing a state secret.

An enormous amount of classified information consists of state secrets of the Khruschev-is-a-fool variety. And the incumbent administration is completely free to decide that revealing any given bit of information would be consistent with our foreign policy, and reveal it. As Henry Kissinger used to say, “I never leak. I de-classify.” This is a huge problem, and an excellent reason not to have anything resembling an Official Secrets Act.

Let’s here more on this from the other Democratic candidates: and John McCain, if he’s still alive.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: