Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"What I am About to Tell You is Controlled Unclassified Information..."

Walter Pincus writes:

Sometime in the next few years, if a memorandum signed by President Bush this month ever goes into effect, one government official talking to another about information on terrorists will have to begin by saying: "What I am about to tell you is controlled unclassified information enhanced with specified dissemination."

That would mean, according to the memo, that the information requires safeguarding because "the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure would create risk of substantial harm."

Bush's memorandum, signed on the eve of his daughter Jenna's wedding, introduced "Controlled Unclassified Information" as a new government category that will replace "Sensitive but Unclassified."

Such information -- though it does not merit the well-known national security classifications "confidential," "secret" or "top secret" -- is nonetheless "pertinent" to U.S. "national interests" or to "important interests of entities outside the federal government," the memo says.

What that means is this--the information is unclassified. Just because someone designates it "controlled" doesn't change the inherent fact that the information was once considered "unclassified."

It could be the contents of a phone book. It could be the location on a map of a building. It could be the menu at McDonald's. It could be the price of Air Jordans at Footlocker. It could be anything. And when you can classify "anything" you've effectively lost the game of keeping government secrets. You've now entered the silly season of limitless ridiculousness. You might as well hide in a hole and pray to God no one sees your ass sticking up into the air.

The Controlled Unclassified Information designation was the product of a year-long government study of how to replace the "sensitive but unclassified" category. "Among the 20 departments and agencies . . . surveyed, there are at least 107 unique markings and more than 131 different labeling or handling processes and procedures for SBU information," Ted McNamara of the office of the director of national intelligence told the House Homeland Security Committee in April 2007.

In other words, we have a considerable mess on our hands, and we are so terrified of our own shadow, we're just going to classify everything in order to save us from ourselves.

Welcome to the new America. Gone are the days of kicking ass and taking names. Gone are the people who could raise a nation out of the wilderness with their bare hands. Here are the days of hysterical screaming and bloody-eyeball fear.

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