from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 83
October 19, 2010

Secrecy News Blog:


The problem of overclassification -- in which inappropriate restrictions are imposed on the disclosure of information in the name of national security -- is at the root of many current disputes over access to government information, including controversies over leaks, FOIA litigation, prepublication review, and others areas of contention.

This has been true for many years, but there is still hardly any systematic method for confronting and correcting overclassification.

In a new article at, I take a critical look at the current policy landscape, including the newly enacted Reducing Over-classification Act and the pending Fundamental Classification Guidance Review. See "Telling Secrets," October 15:


It seems that some disclosures of classified information can lead a person to poverty, ignominy and a jail sentence, while others provide a royal road to fame and fortune. Some leaks are relentlessly investigated, while others are tolerated or encouraged.

This apparent inconsistency, as notably illustrated once again in the phenomenon of author Bob Woodward, was examined by Michael Isikoff in "'Double standard' in White House leak inquiries?", NBC News, October 18:

In the wake of an earlier Woodward book in 2007, Rep. Henry Waxman noted a similar discrepancy in the Bush Administration's response to leaks.

"The administration seems to be inconsistent in their approach in these cases, and it's troubling," Rep. Waxman said at a March 16, 2007 hearing. "They raise very serious questions about whether White House policies on sensitive information are driven by political considerations. If it's a critic [who discloses classified information] they are going to investigate, they're going to really stop it. When it comes to people in-house, people they like, people they trust, well, the investigation hasn't even started with regard to those people."


The Central Intelligence Agency has filed a lawsuit against one of its own former employees after he published a book on intelligence without first getting the CIA's prior approval, the Washington Times reported today.

A book called "The Human Factor: Inside the CIA's Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture" was written by a former CIA clandestine services officer under the pen name Ishmael Jones. It was published earlier this year, the government says, "in defiance of the CIA's Publications Review Board's disapproval and instructions not to publish." See "CIA sues ex-agent for book's breach of 'secrecy'" by Bill Gertz, Washington Times, October 19, 2010:

The CIA's complaint against Jones, filed in July, says that he violated the terms of the non-disclosure agreement that he signed as a condition of his employment and that, as a result, he is in breach of contract.

As a first order of business, the CIA sought and gained the Court's approval to proceed against Jones using his pseudonym since, the Agency argued, disclosing his real name could compromise national security.

"For CIA officers to effectively and securely collect foreign intelligence and conduct clandestine foreign intelligence activities around the world, they cannot openly admit that they work for the CIA," the government brief explained.

But "if defendant's true name and affiliation with the CIA were officially acknowledged, foreign governments, enterprising journalists, and amateur spy-hunters would be able to discover and publicly disclose the cover methods defendant used to conceal his true status as a CIA officer," the brief said.

The class of persons who constitute "amateur spy-hunters" was not further identified.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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