Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Our Boy Blunt (the senior)

Perhaps the finest quote to come from the former intelligence officers' letter came from Missouri's own Representative Roy Blunt (Mo-7).
House majority whip Roy Blunt (R, Mo), on Face the Nation, July 17, 2005, “It certainly wouldn't be the first time that the CIA might have been overzealous in sort of maintaining the kind of topsecret definition on things longer than they needed to. You know, this was a job that the ambassador's wife had that she went to every day. It was a desk job. I think many people in Washington understood that her employment was at the CIA, and she went to that office every day.”
Rep. Blunt believes that the Central Intelligence Agency might take secrecy too seriously.

What Blunt may be missing here is that an agent who worked at all in the field becomes part of a larger web. Once you start to tease out where different strands lead, you can begin to piece together the entire picture. Sometimes the details aren't even as important as simply knowing the relationship between to pieces of information.

A good investigative reporter or historian could tell you how important seemingly small details can be to fleshing out the entire subject.

The leaker, blinded by a desire to score points, fails to appreciate that while Ms. Plame may not be a critical individual, or in personal danger due to the disclosure, her relationship with others and the false-front operations that she may have interacted with may place other agents or potential operations at risk.

Republican spokespeople may try and spin Blunt's statement to say that he was referring more directly to the fact that the government does in-fact classify enormous amounts of material that doesn't require it for reasons ranging from politics to (more often) inertia. Just ask Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy. Afterood has spent years fighting a lonely and mind-numbingly bureaucratic fight to reduce the unecessary secrecy.

However, Aftergood is after the more prosaic classified material; Congressional Research Service reports and the like. It is unlikely that he, nor anyone who knows even a cursory amount about the intelligence services, would ever argue that naming agents is appropriate policy.

In his book Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Evesdropping, author Patrick Radden Keith describes in detail the difficulty in obtaining some information (e.. names, locations) that had been held secret for decades. The most often stated reason is that the information could still be relevant. Sometimes it is difficult to know what will provide the final piece in someone's puzzle. More often it is better to not take the chance.

The information could have potential political fallout as well. Not all fallout comes in the form of threats of force.

Some classified information ought not to be classified, but there is much that should.

For a Congressman of the United States to go and national television and say that the CIA takes secrecy too seriously in order to provide political cover is beyond belief. The CIA regularly puts men and women in potentially life-threatening situations. More importantly, leaked information may lead to a failure to collect the very information the intelligence community needs.

Rep. Blunt demonstrates just how far the Republican Party and the Bush Administration are willing to go to ensure they can score political points, no matter how petty. No subject is above crass politicization, not even national security.

- Murphy

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