year the Republicans tried to cast a wider and more punitive net over anyone who
violated what they said were "classified secrets."
a move that is either naive to the point of uneducable ignorance or it is
cynical to the point of contempt for the public and for reality.
Anyone who knows Washington knows that ever since the Truman security program
was instituted during the Joseph McCarthy Era, the use of classification has
been employed less to truly keep secrets and more as a strategic weapon for
bureaucratic in fighting for money. Or as a cynical weapon against citizens whom
Attorneys General want to hurt.
a Washington correspondent for 15 years. I have been present, alone or in small
"breakfast" groups of correspondents, when officials ranging from Presidents to
members of Congress, make a point for the correspondents by pulling a document
out of their briefcase, making sure you saw the big, uppercase stamp, "TOP
SECRET SENSITIVE." They would then proceed to turn pages until they reach a
well-marked page, and then read out a section that seemed to make their
point—whatever it was for that session–– valid by an incontestable source,
namely, a top secret classified document and therefore close to the word of God.
classifications, of course, vary. The lowest, merely, "Secret" means that it is
probably already in public libraries. The labels then rise grim-looking step by
grim-looking step, to "Top Secret." and up until you reach a realm that a
classification is so secret it has no name. Special agencies, like the one for
nuclear regulation, have their own system, some with letters like "Q." and some
two examples. In the midst of the Cold War, the Navy and Air Force were engaged
in a battle for appropriations. Each released "secret" information to selected
correspondents on the deadly perfection of each of the systems they were touting
in Congress. In this case, the Navy wanted an enormous increase in large
aircraft carriers, arguing they could operate when weather stopped airplanes in
their bombing (this was before some of the more fancy systems of today) and
would become, to repeat a popular phrase, "the nation’s first line of defense
anywhere in the world."
Air Force, of course, considered itself "the nation’s first line, etc. ). So in
order to show that perhaps the proposed giant new Navy carrier fleet was not the
invulnerable "the nation’s first line…."), the Air Force planted an observer
on a fleet exercise in the Caribbean and waited until there was a cloud cover
over the fleet activity. The bad weather, of course, was, by Navy opinion, a
dangerous flaw in the Air Force argument for its appropriation for more and
bigger bombers. When the Air Force planted observer on the carrier sent a
pre-arranged signal giving the carrier’s position, the Air Force sent a plane
with special radar and took a photograph of the carrier through a thick cloud
cover. The carrier was highly visible from the air in good weather and bad.
Shortly afterward, I, and a few other correspondents, were quietly given a copy
of the photograph, clearly marked on the back, "Top Secret Sensitive" but the
red letters crossed out with a pen. The source, a lobbyist for the Air Force,
said this made it clear that the country should not appropriate the vast funds
the Navy had requested for a big fleet of such vulnerable national shields. He
added that it also showed, of course, how superior the big proposed Air Force
planes would be. The photo appeared in newspapers, including in The New York
other example occurred during a crucial moment in the Pentagon Papers case. The
government had, of course, obtained a lower court order enjoining, first, The
New York Times which began publishing the secret history of the Vietnam War, a
history with very scary classification stamps on the whole thing. After the
Times was stopped its printing by court order, the Washington Post also received
the Pentagon Papers from a then-secret source (I was involved in that
retrieval). The case moved quickly to the higher courts.
session, attended only by top lawyers for the government and, in this case, the
Post, and a few selected editorial people. I was one of those because I was an
editor of the Post at the time and had obtained the Post’s copies of the 5400
session was in the office of Chief Judge of the Appellate court in Washington,
Judge David Bazelon. A lawyer for the Department of Justice dramatically took
out a sheaf of pages from the papers and told Judge Bazelon that these were at
the highest and most crucial level of government secrets which, if put in the
public domain, would make the United States dangerously vulnerable to Soviet
attack. The government’s argument was bolstered by an affidavit from the
National Security Agency (the most secret of all the intelligence agencies).
Luckily our small editorial group included our chief Pentagon correspondent,
George Wilson. He looked at the document and whispered to the Post lawyer, "I’ve
seen that someplace. Stall for time, stall for time." As Wilson fished into his
briefcase full of his own documents, the Post Lawyer asked the judge if he could
look at the critical document again. Wilson, who had covered all the most
important Pentagon appropriations, was quickly going through the pages of a
book-size, green-covered Senate publication.
Wilson stopped, read something in the green book, and then handed it to the Post
lawyer, opened to one section, and whispered to the lawyer. The lawyer looked at
the identifying cover page of the green book, and then showed it to Judge
government lawyer had assured the Judge that this particular Pentagon Paper
document if became known to the Soviets and other known enemies of the United
States would endanger the very defense of the country. Luckily, George Wilson
had a sharp memory. The document was a copy of testimony before an executive
session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later had been cleared for
public consumption by the Government Printing Office. It was a document in
public libraries, in open congressional offices, in diligent Pentagon
correspondents, and, undoubtedly, in the files of dozens of countries around the
world, including in the Soviet Union, whose military attache may have bought his
copy from the bookstore of the Government Printing Office in Washington.
think there are, now and then, some pieces of government information that are
truly damaging to release immediately. But I think they are rare. No vast
bureaucracy and bureaucratic game-playing is needed for them. During World War
II we had no formal classification system for military secrets.