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The End of Secrecy


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George DeMohrenschildt's brother Dimitri worked for the Hover Institute, at Standford University in California, a major strategic think tank. That's why it is so surprising for this to come out of there. It's a very important policy paper that should have an effect on not only the sharing of intelligence among government agencies, but the sharing of strategic information with citizens. Do others agree with my assessment? - BK

http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/3020376.html

By Bruce Berkowitz

Recent investigations into the September 11 intelligence failure and misestimates of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have discovered an important new trend. Traditionally, secrecy has been vital to effective intelligence. But now secrecy is causing some of out most significant intelligence failures.

Investigators examining the September 11 terrorist attacks found that intelligence organizations were often unable to share information with intelligence users and thus could not provide effective warning. In other cases, intelligence organizations could not share information with each other and thus were unable to work effectively together.

Sometimes personnel lacked the appropriate clearances. But often intelligence personnel simply assumed they shouldn’t share information with others because of security rules—that is, rules designed to protect secrets. Investigators have also found cases in which intelligence organizations could not assign enough analysts to a problem because people lacked the required clearances. Even worse, sometimes personnel did have the required clearances, but officials refused them anyway because they applied their own overly conservative judgment of who could join their team without putting intelligence sources at risk.

Misguided or poorly designed procedures to protect secrets have been discovered on the technical front, too. Analysts often can’t move data from one computer to another because their networks are operated by different organizations and each uses a different security standard. Often intelligence organizations can’t use new technologies because security regulations prohibit it or because of difficulties in getting a particular piece of hardware or software certified.

Preliminary investigations into the intelligence estimates of the Iraqi WMD program suggest some of the results of these policies. For example, CIA analysts assessing reports from the field sometimes believed they were reading information from several sources that corroborated each other, when in fact the reports all came from a single source—and were wrong. The analysts did not know they were making a mistake because security rules designed to protect secrets—“compartmentation” and “need to know”—prevented them from knowing the identity of the source.

One reason these problems have persisted for some time is that too few experts from within the intelligence community have complained. Most critics of secrecy in the intelligence community are outsiders, mainly critics who are against secrecy in principle. The American Civil Liberties Union is likely to challenge the rules intelligence organizations use to protect secrets, not the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

Yet the effective use of secrecy to protect sensitive information—and ensuring access to information, even when classified secret, to those who must have it—is one of the most important decisions intelligence officers face. The intelligence profession should be concerned about how we currently handle secrets.

The whole purpose of intelligence is to give us an information advantage over our adversaries. Secrecy protects this advantage by keeping our opponents from knowing what we know. But poorly designed systems for protecting secrecy can give away any advantage we gain when they prevent us from using our intelligence effectively.

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Secrecy can indeed be counterproductive, if not properly applied.

I remember when I was working for Coastwatch. We'd occasionally be tasked to support an Australian federal police operation... but they wouldn't give us any detail necessary to actually give them the necessary support.

"Look for a yacht"

"Okay - what type?"

.......

"Colour?"

........

"Distinguishing features?"

..........

These things help us determine what is, and what is not, a vessel of interest.

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  • 6 months later...
George DeMohrenschildt's brother Dimitri worked for the Hover Institute, at Standford University in California, a major strategic think tank. That's why it is so surprising for this to come out of there. It's a very important policy paper that should have an effect on not only the sharing of intelligence among government agencies, but the sharing of strategic information with citizens. Do others agree with my assessment? - BK

Now they are saying that the financial crisis could have been averted if the proper oversight was conducted by the government, which means that the financial books would have had to be open to inspectors, and a decrease in secrecy over such matters.

So I thought I'd bring this back in light of continuing developements. BK

http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/3020376.html

By Bruce Berkowitz

Recent investigations into the September 11 intelligence failure and misestimates of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have discovered an important new trend. Traditionally, secrecy has been vital to effective intelligence. But now secrecy is causing some of out most significant intelligence failures.

Investigators examining the September 11 terrorist attacks found that intelligence organizations were often unable to share information with intelligence users and thus could not provide effective warning. In other cases, intelligence organizations could not share information with each other and thus were unable to work effectively together.

Sometimes personnel lacked the appropriate clearances. But often intelligence personnel simply assumed they shouldn't share information with others because of security rules—that is, rules designed to protect secrets. Investigators have also found cases in which intelligence organizations could not assign enough analysts to a problem because people lacked the required clearances. Even worse, sometimes personnel did have the required clearances, but officials refused them anyway because they applied their own overly conservative judgment of who could join their team without putting intelligence sources at risk.

Misguided or poorly designed procedures to protect secrets have been discovered on the technical front, too. Analysts often can't move data from one computer to another because their networks are operated by different organizations and each uses a different security standard. Often intelligence organizations can't use new technologies because security regulations prohibit it or because of difficulties in getting a particular piece of hardware or software certified.

Preliminary investigations into the intelligence estimates of the Iraqi WMD program suggest some of the results of these policies. For example, CIA analysts assessing reports from the field sometimes believed they were reading information from several sources that corroborated each other, when in fact the reports all came from a single source—and were wrong. The analysts did not know they were making a mistake because security rules designed to protect secrets—"compartmentation" and "need to know"—prevented them from knowing the identity of the source.

One reason these problems have persisted for some time is that too few experts from within the intelligence community have complained. Most critics of secrecy in the intelligence community are outsiders, mainly critics who are against secrecy in principle. The American Civil Liberties Union is likely to challenge the rules intelligence organizations use to protect secrets, not the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.

Yet the effective use of secrecy to protect sensitive information—and ensuring access to information, even when classified secret, to those who must have it—is one of the most important decisions intelligence officers face. The intelligence profession should be concerned about how we currently handle secrets.

The whole purpose of intelligence is to give us an information advantage over our adversaries. Secrecy protects this advantage by keeping our opponents from knowing what we know. But poorly designed systems for protecting secrecy can give away any advantage we gain when they prevent us from using our intelligence effectively.

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