A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.

― Carlos Ruiz Zafan

Secrecy is a necessary element in the conduct of National Security. Some information is either too dangerous to too many to be allowed to be freely shared. It needs to be effective. The mis-classification of information is a threat because it undermines the cases where classification is necessary and appropriate.Boschsevendeadlysins

Secrecy also carries a massive cost that should be factored into the consideration. When something is secret is isn’t subject to the sort of review and consideration that public information is. As a result aspects like the quality of the related work suffer, or achieving quality is more expensive. The United States kept a large number of documents classified for decades and hidden from view in spite of having no classified information and having great historical value. Other documents were classified solely due to their embarrassing nature to the government. Some of these were the same.

Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.

― André Malraux

capitol-building-from-gala-300x200It isn’t a secret that the United States has engaged in a veritable orgy of classification since 9/11. What is less well known is the massive implied classification through other data categories such as “official use only (OUO)”. This designation is itself largely unregulated as such is quite prone to abuse.

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….

― Noam Chomsky

OUO is also used to manage things like export control. Despite its importance, the law managing export control is terrible. It is poorly written, poorly managed, and its application is primarily driven by fear rather than rational thought. It is too important to treat this way, and I believe its implementation is actually a threat to our security. It might be useful to describe explicitly the ways that secrecy and classification are abused. Some of these sins are a nuisance, and some of them border on unethical, immoral or illegal.Unknown

The ones with no imagination are always the quickest to justify themselves

― Haruki Murakami

Legitimacy (pride). Some information seeks legitimacy through being declared classified in some manner. For example, shoddy work can be implied to be legit through its classification.

It is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.

― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,

Importance (envy). Some information or the work related to the information is implied to be more important because it is classified. I see this a lot. It is a way of making the case that your work is so important that it needs to be protected.

I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvelous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if only one hides it.

― Oscar Wilde

Hiding (greed). Some information is deliberately hidden through classification, the words to remember here are “need to know”. This is used to hide things that people don’t want too many eyes on. When I encounter this it disgusts me.

It is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble.

–Howard Baker

Cover-up (lust). Fortunately, I have not seen this form in person, but it often involves things that are embarrassing or illegal. You’ve seen this in the news, I’m sure it happens a lot more than we think.

 Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.

― Bruce Cavil

Control (wrath). This is a common use of classification. It is a valid reason in many cases, but it is also misused when it is applied to keep communication from happening. Another place where the words “need to know” appear.

Safety (gluttony). This is the “cover your ass” version of classification. Basically, you’re not sure so you declare it to be classified because it’s the “safe” thing to do. At some level there isn’t anything wrong with this if you rectify the situation promptly. In many areas there is clear guidance that allows a better final determination to be made. In other areas, like OUO there is no clear guidance, and the safety sin reigns through the fear associated with awfully written laws.

The awareness of the ambiguity of one’s highest achievements – as well as one’s deepest failures – is a definite symptom of maturity.

― Paul Tillich

Ambiguity (sloth). This goes to the heart of the management of classified documents. In the example of export control we have allowed ambiguity and resultant fear to rule for years. There is no standard and no clear guidance. As a result the application of classification is uneven and ultimately self-conflicting.  seven-deadly-sins