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Favorable Leaks

Monday, April 10, 2006

I was reading an article this morning by Dean Lawrence R. Velvel titled Bush’s Double Standard On Releasing Classified Information. He raises an excellent question that I think needs to be asked. When it comes to declassifying documents, should the President be allowed to declassify only those portions that he finds favorable to his agenda? To declassify information in any other way would be to portray evidence that could potentially mislead the public into forming an incorrect conclusion. Furthermore, this practice would prevent anyone from reaching an informed determination of the facts at hand. Here's the quote from his article that makes his point:
Now, as indicated, the press of a trial has left me no time to research national security law to determine who can authorize disclosure, under what circumstances, and whether the matter is governed by Congressional statute, executive order or both. But there is one point which nonetheless jumps out at me, even though the (incompetent) media has so far been blind to it. Does the governing rule really provide, is it intended to provide, can it truly be lawful for it to provide, that the President can, on the spot, authorize disclosure of previously classified information that supports his position, while withholding disclosure of classified information which opposes it, even information in the very same document or conceivably on the very same page? Is this what classification is really all about? Is this what it is supposed to accomplish or is intended to accomplish? Why am I dubious? Why do I think that, at least as embodied in law as opposed to the evil chicanery that is an every day matter in Washington, this is not the purpose of classification and must be, indeed, a horrible abuse of it? – in all justice probably a literally criminal abuse of it. (Emphasis added)
Good question, Mr. Velvel! What's to prevent this President, or any president for that matter, from declassifying only those portions that support his agenda? More importantly, if it is later discovered that the president selectively declassified intelligence with the intent to deceive the American public, what recourse do we have if he's already out of office? No, I think this is one of those places that we, as a country, had better not tread.
While I was contemplating this article, I was inspired to demonstrate how the act of selectively leaking favorable intelligence could be destructive to our country. Here is a snippet from a fake National Intelligence Estimate that has been selectively redacted to give the impression that Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain yellowcake and that the CIA had tied him to al Qaeda. The truth lies in how you redact the facts. (Remember: this is fictitious. It is done only to illustrate how the power to "leak" favorable intel can harm the public trust!)
Depending on how the facts are presented (or omitted) directly affects how you interpret the facts. Anyone can see from the two documents portrayed in the image that one can arrive at two very different assessments of the facts. In the end, only one of these assessments is correct, though.


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