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November 30, 2011 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Daniel Ellsberg on the Limits of Knowledge He recounts a story in which he advised Kissinger about the mental gymnastics involved in having a high security clearance.
posted by Weeping_angel (87 comments total) 98 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was really good.
posted by DU at 12:04 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always been afraid that it's like that.
posted by penduluum at 12:05 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


non-mobile version
posted by mkb at 12:10 PM on November 30, 2011


Crap. I want to know secret stuff soo bad.
posted by pwally at 12:15 PM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well worth the read - thanks! As the last few Presidents came into office I've wondered what those first few days are like when they suddenly get access to lots of critical information they previously didn't even know existed. This sort of explains what that might feel like. Have any Presidents or other high ranking officials covered this moment and how they dealt with it in their memoirs?
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:17 PM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


This was a terrific read. The thing that puzzles me, though, is that over the years as things get declassified it never seems to turn out that the secrets were all that secret or all that significant. Is there a really good example of a foreign policy decision or a political action that at the time seemed utterly insane but which later declassified information has rendered entirely explicable?
posted by yoink at 12:22 PM on November 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


So Daniel Ellsberg actually knows far more about the subject than I could possibly imagine?
posted by villanelles at dawn at 12:23 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


pwally: "Crap. I want to know secret stuff soo bad."

What you want is the ultimate William Poundstone book! I'd love that - even if it was just a quick peek.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:24 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hello Dick Cheney. "incapable of learning" indeed. in fact, "[s]omething like a moron"
posted by victors at 12:24 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if what Ellsberg didn't know was that Kissinger already had security clearances higher than even Ellsberg knew about and was sitting there going "if only you knew what I know"????
posted by spicynuts at 12:25 PM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


I had a minor security clearance and even that was surreal. I remember getting a briefing on a new rifle round. Thing is I'd read about this round the month before in Popular Mechanics while getting a haircut. So now I wasn't supposed to talk about it?

It just hadn't been formally declassified, so even though the contractors and such were bragging about it and it was in the popular press it was still covered as far as I was concerned.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:25 PM on November 30, 2011


I love this story. I was thinking about it the other day, but could not remember who the characters were. Thanks for posting!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:26 PM on November 30, 2011


Question: Are there people in the government who know stuff the president doesn't? Like, some high-level dude at the CIA might know something that, for whatever reason, he cannot tell the president?

I suppose the answer is "no", since he's the CIC and all, but it might make for a good story. I also suspect there's no way we'd ever know the answer if it were true, because it would be a big secret.
posted by bondcliff at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2011


I guarantee there are people who know stuff the President doesn't. The Pentagon is an institution above Presidencies.
posted by spicynuts at 12:30 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


So does everyone on Metafilter have some sort of special clearances? Because that would explain a whole bunch of threads.
posted by mazola at 12:32 PM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


bondcliff: Maybe I've watched too many spy movies, but I've always assumed that there are at least a few people around the President with vital information that isn't shared with him because he doesn't "NEED to know". Some of it might be documented on a secret chain-of-command in regards to information. But I'm sure even more there are people or positions that during some momentary crisis or lapse in oversight were able to create a new secret level that they control outright. With enough smoke and mirrors it would just seem like part of the way things are on done and must be OK. Hard to question so0mething when you're told the people you'd go to aren't supposed to know about it in the first place. Like I said, I assume it's happening, I just hope that those covert side chains aren't as corrupted by power as I actually fear they are.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:37 PM on November 30, 2011


I think not officially bondcliff because original classification authority descends directly from the president.

There are obviously things our bureaucrats simply don't tell the president, either because he doesn't care, or because they don't care for him to know. They could trivially 'derive' the classification authority from whatever they wish.

There are countries like Sweden where judicial processes are theoretically shielded from political officials, but obviously they just pervert such rules into a secret trial whenever they wish, ala Julian Assange.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:38 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is not about the US Presidency, but there was a BBC doc on The Secret World of Whitehall, about the UK's Cabinet Office, Cabinet Secretary and various other unelected civil servants and special advisors. It does go into what it's like coming in as a new government.
posted by Harry at 12:38 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


@mazola - You mean you DON'T have some sort of special clearances?

OKAY, WHO LET MAZOLA IN HERE AND WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T SHOW HIM THE SPECIAL HANDSHAKE!
posted by Man with Lantern at 12:40 PM on November 30, 2011


There is no cabal.
posted by spicynuts at 12:42 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hm.

Wonder what the sekkrit information was that convinced Obama NOT to fight the insurance companies and big-pharma in order to get a decent health care bill, thus effectively emasculating his one claim to fame?
posted by mmrtnt at 12:45 PM on November 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think not officially bondcliff because original classification authority descends directly from the president.

Does this mean that if I'm hypothetically running a super secret undercover operation which I will neither confirm nor deny, some details of which I cannot even share with my direct superiors (like the head of my agency), I will still have to tell the president about it if he demands this information? Meaning that I cannot tell him that I don't care if he's the fucking president, he's not classified for this information?
posted by daniel_charms at 12:46 PM on November 30, 2011


> Hard to question so0mething when you're told the people you'd go to aren't supposed to know about it in the first place

Isn't that the plot to The Osterman Weekend?
posted by mmrtnt at 12:49 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was a terrific read. The thing that puzzles me, though, is that over the years as things get declassified it never seems to turn out that the secrets were all that secret or all that significant. Is there a really good example of a foreign policy decision or a political action that at the time seemed utterly insane but which later declassified information has rendered entirely explicable?

Well, the best example is probably the alien/9.11 confluence and how it contributed to Cheney's thought process on Iraq.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:50 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Shit, mazola is here.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:50 PM on November 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm sure there is a lot of information kept from the president. Plausible deniability and all that.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:50 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So does everyone on Metafilter have some sort of special clearances?

My double-alpha clearance was confiscated three days ago after the failure of Operation Cortex. I don't care what I say anymore! The mods are up to things! Horrible things and I can tell you everything! It all began when ... hang on someone is at the door I'll be right back I'm sure it's nothing impor
posted by griphus at 12:52 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honestly, this is the same process you go through in, say, a graduate history program. Your understanding of the Wars of the Roses (say) becomes much more complex than what you thought before. If you're a big dumb-head, you assume that no one else can have a new idea about the Wars of the Roses without having (say) detailed expertise in the household effects of the parties involved, and you talk patronizingly to outsiders and competitively to people around you. If you're reasonably intelligent, you know that people can have new insights based on experience (hey doc, what is the role of gender in all this?), outside information (I wonder how this parallels the infighting of the Qing dynasty?) and even a broad general outline of the topic (can't think of one, not being a WoR expert).

Also, all information is ideologized. A lot of the "secret" information that the government had about China and Vietnam in the Cold War was either lies or based on the false belief that communism trumped any kind of national agenda, for example.

And everyone already has an ideology. Okay, to some degree your ideology may change over time based on accruing new information - I've become more and more critical of the prison system as I've learned more about it, for example. But I guarantee you that there is no single super-secret piece of information held by the Feds that would turn me into a supporter of the prison-industrial complex, and I'm not going to start believing in indefinite detention or torture even if someone has actual, true information about lurking terrorists.

Information is a network. Now it's possible that the Feds have huge secret networked information that a reasonably diligent interested citizen couldn't even hope to guess at. But if they do, I bet it's less important than you think - COINTELPRO was a secret, yes, but activists knew they were being targeted fucked with, the challenge was proving it with government documents, not knowing the facts.
posted by Frowner at 12:54 PM on November 30, 2011 [39 favorites]


@daniel_charms - Nope. Since everything comes from the President, if he asks about it then you gotta tell him about it. No such thing as him not being cleared for the info. Ditto if he says that he wants to put it in the Washington Post. The info is his to do with as he sees fit. (Granted, it's not always a good idea but it's his call.)

...and the super secret operation has to be approved by the President (and some folks in Congress) if it meets certain criteria. And since you'll need money for it, someone will have to know about it.
posted by Man with Lantern at 12:55 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You could in theory be fired, or even get the Terry Childs treatment, daniel_charms. In practice, you'd simply ask your defense contractor buddies who profit from your little side business to get the president off your back.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:01 PM on November 30, 2011


And since you'll need money for it, someone will have to know about it.

You mean I can't just use the income from my Colombian operation to fund it?

I wonder what it's like for a president going out of office. One day you have access to all this information and the next day, bam! the source dries up. I bet it's a hell of a hangover, like net deprivation, only million times worse.
posted by daniel_charms at 1:13 PM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn't, and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn't even guess. In particular, you'll feel foolish for having literally rubbed shoulders for over a decade with some officials and consultants who did have access to all this information you didn't know about and didn't know they had, and you'll be stunned that they kept that secret from you so well.

This seems believable on the surface ... but on further thought, given that there doesn't seem to be much that's been declassified in the past decades that seems to really qualify as the sort of information he's talking about, I wonder if it's not a bit of puffery being recited for Kissinger's benefit, on behalf of the defense / intelligence establishment.

I mean, we ought to know what he was referring to, at this point. Something so earth-shattering that it would make you feel like an idiot, change your whole point of view on strategic geopolitics? What would that be, anyway? That the missile gap was false? That the USSR's economy wasn't so hot? Maybe that's what he's referring to.

Are there people in the government who know stuff the president doesn't?

Functionally, yes; information tends to get summarized and simplified as it makes its way up the CoC, and I expect by the time it makes it to the Oval Office it's probably been filtered through so many PowerPoint decks and memos that it doesn't have much of the original nuance left. I'm sure there are lots of things that junior analysts at the CIA know, which for various reasons might never get effectively communicated up to the President.

But officially, in terms of being actually prohibited to tell the President something, by a security-clearance issue? No. The President, Vice President, and certain staff who work with them (including, I think, all Cabinet members and certain members of their staff) have Yankee White clearance. (Technically, Yankee White is the name of a background check, not a clearance per se -- there isn't any clearance level "above top secret," it's just that information becomes compartmentalized.) Someone with Yankee White can request any information they want; it's basically an all-access pass.

However, you might cynically point out that even someone with what amounts to unlimited access still needs to know what to ask for. And that is, I suppose, where the conspiracy theories creep in. If a project were so secret that even the President didn't know to ask about its existence (or chose not to) then it could be effectively hidden from them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:16 PM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Daniel Ellsberg part of UC Berkeley Occupy protest
posted by homunculus at 1:34 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bradley Manning Defense to Call 50 Witnesses to Hearing

"The witnesses could include Daniel Ellsberg, famed Pentagon Papers leaker, who would talk about the benefit Manning’s alleged leaks provided to the public, as well as technical experts who would speak to the actual evidence on which the charges against Manning are based."
posted by homunculus at 1:36 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


My girlfriend and I have been watching Yes, Minister for the first time and loving it. Although probably not terribly accurate, it's given me a new appreciation for what these sorts of issues most feel like as a politician. Also, I would never have guessed a series following the office of a Minister of Administrative Affairs and his cagey secretaries could be so engrossing and amusing.
posted by gilrain at 1:40 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If that were the first page of a book, it'd be hard to put it down.
posted by rahnefan at 1:41 PM on November 30, 2011


(Actually, just read the Wikipedia entry for Yes, Minister. Apparently, the show was noted and praised by political scientists and politicians alike for its honest and accurate portrayal of the politics shown in the series. Even better!)
posted by gilrain at 1:44 PM on November 30, 2011


Question: Are there people in the government who know stuff the president doesn't?

I think the better question is "are there people that have access to stuff the president doesn't?" Because I'm sure I have some information that the president doesn't (currently) know, but could acquire if he asked for it.

Granted, it's really boring stuff, but still.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:45 PM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, there appears to be a black van in the driveway. Excuse me, back in a mi
posted by backseatpilot at 1:46 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Note to self: Do not piss off backseatpilot. Next time let him win at Super Sprint.

I'm not really talking about the details that someone would know that the President doesn't really care about or need to know, I was mostly wondering if there was stuff that they kept from him because he shouldn't know it due to security concerns.
posted by bondcliff at 1:50 PM on November 30, 2011


Yankee White clearance

That's some interesting stuff.

I WTF'd at first at the idea that this clearance is required by the white house food service staff, and even military bands that play at the white house. Why does the 2nd trombone need to have access to information about forthcoming delta force operations?

But it makes a lot more sense when you figure the conversations you would inevitably overhear just hanging around the place. The guy who pours Obama's orange juice is privy to a lot of heavy shit.
posted by CaseyB at 1:51 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


What Ellsberg said can extend to lots of other areas of knowledge, particularly clandestine ones.
posted by telstar at 1:54 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


However, you might cynically point out that even someone with what amounts to unlimited access still needs to know what to ask for.

Aye, there's the rub. Information requiring Secret or Top Secret clearance can be redacted and those without the required clearance can be told why they are being denied access. However even the existence of codeword clearance levels is withheld from all who do not possess said clearance. Said information is not merely redacted; it's very existence cannot be revealed to those unauthorized to know it.

JOSH
Okay. I get it. I can look you up. I have code-word clearance.

HARPER
Not this code, you don't.
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:59 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think far more likely than things the president can't know about are things actively hidden from the president in such a way that he and his staff won't ask about them, things hidden deep down in the pentagon budget that look like they're going to pay janitors or whatever.
posted by drezdn at 2:06 PM on November 30, 2011


I WTF'd at first at the idea that this clearance is required by the white house food service staff

Just like some very low level employees (drivers, body-men) are political appointees like the very high level (agency heads, policy makers). They are going to hear things and see things.

There is a certain type of of nerd who might read The White House Staff for fun. No one here, of course.
posted by shothotbot at 2:07 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I became president I'd do a really poor job because I'd just sit around reading secret documents. I already have trouble with the Internet and having discovered where to go to read development plans/building permits in my city and meeting minutes for the various city bureaus. Electing an information junkie very much might be the end of America. My first order of business would be ordering an interactive web interface be built so I don't need to rely on people summarizing things for me, and it'd likely be my last.
posted by floam at 2:11 PM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


President: "Get me the Metafilter files!"

CIA: "Sir? Oh, uh, there are no Metafilter files, sir. *cough*"


posted by mmrtnt at 2:18 PM on November 30, 2011


Didn't Bill ask the CIA to look into aliens when he got the job?
posted by shothotbot at 2:23 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone with Yankee White can request any information they want; it's basically an all-access pass.

Not true. Having been vetted via Yankee White -- which is now just a nickname, but the original endorsement was called that -- means that you are considered trustworthy enough to be allowed to have direct access to the president. Thus, you can, for example, fly Air Force One, or work on the VC-25 that becomes AF1 when the President boards, or drive the car he's in, or work on the car he's in, etc. etc.

Being given YW status does give you a great deal of latitude in tserms of Need to Know, but it is not an automatic "You can read anything." There are three grades in the SAP known as Yankee White, from the people with the most access to the president to the honor guards. The Honor Guards do *not* have a ton of access.

Really, what YW is about is "Would you be subject to foreign influence that could be used to compel you to act against the interests of the US?"

As to classified information: There are two sets of security rules. The first is simple classification -- Unclassified, Restricted, Confidential, Secret, Top Secret. If you hold a Secret clearance you can have access to material classified at Secret or below, as long as you have a couple of other things. We also now have Controlled Unclassified Information, I'll just elide that for now, but it replaced a bunch of things like SBU (Sensitive But Unclassified), FOUO (For Official Use Only), etc.

Then there is the second set of rules, the Special Access Plan known as SCI -- Sensitive Compartmented Information. To have access to SCI, you need to be granted an endorsement to that compartment. *Any* information in that compartment also has a classification, so if you have an endorsement of Secret, KEYHOLE, then you can access to material that includes any material that is classified Secret, and any material that is compartmented under KEYHOLE that is Secret and below. Top Secret - KEYHOLE would be off limits to you, despite your KEYHOLE endorsement. SCI information can be of any classification other than "Unclassified".

SCI is not "Above Top Secret" -- you could have something classified 'Restricted - KEYHOLE" and you'd be unable to legally access it with your Top Secret clearance if you did not also hold KEYHOLE Clearance.

Compartmented Intelligence can be "decompartmented" -- it then is just protected by its normal classification. It can then also be declassified. You cannot declassify compartmented information and leave it in the compartment -- Unclassified is Unclassified.

There are a few well known compartments. Q -- just the letter -- means you have access to Nuclear Weapons Design. Note, Q is not access to the weapons themselves, each service has a compartment for that. TALENT KEYHOLE, or TK, is the combination of TALENT, which was Airborne Imaging (U2) and KEYHOLE, which was Satellite based imaging.

SCI applies to US Intelligence, but there's a whole bunch of SAPs -- Special Access Programs -- that work the same way. For example, the SIOP -- the Single Integrated Operations Plan for nuclear attack, is a SAP. So is access to NATO classified information.

Finally, you have the clearance, and you're endorsed to the compartment. Can you just start reading? No. The other thing you need to have is Need To Know. They are very serious about this. If you're TS-FUBAR specializing in Japan (whatever FUBAR covers), and there's some information classified TS-FUBAR about Israel, you do have need to know, and it's illegal for you to access that information.

The President is, by the nature of their office, considered to have need to know, and certainly has full access to the President. :-) The President also, in effect holds an endorsement to all the compartments, but they also have the responsibility of maintaining the security of that information. I would certainly hope they weren't just poking around, however, I could see one line in the daily briefing resulting in a request to "Dig up what we know on this guy..." and a lot of compartmented information being assembled for the President. While they cannot be charged for releasing classified information while in office, they could be impeached for it, so it is in their own interest to not know what they truly don't need to know.
posted by eriko at 2:41 PM on November 30, 2011 [155 favorites]


I have access to confidential financial data, earnings reports, M&A deals etc. Stuff that isn't supposed to get out because the average inverstor does not have access to it. I went through a fairly non-invasive background check, some standard corporate training, signed an agreement not to invest or divulge the information and they set me loose.

What I found out was, none of that stuff was secret, everyone already knew. Everyone except the poor schmuck investing his retirement is an insider.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:20 PM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


This thread is for High Programmers only.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:33 PM on November 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


So basically, the names for all the compartments must come from one central source, else you could find out the names of existing compartments by applying for a bunch of names and seeing which ones got rejected.
posted by JauntyFedora at 3:49 PM on November 30, 2011


--I wonder what it's like for a president going out of office. One day you have access to all this information and the next day, bam! the source dries up.--

It depends to an extent on the individual. I know Bush-1 was read in to the daily intelligence briefings after leaving office (where "read in" might mean they receive all the latest classified documents related to the current president's daily briefing). The seekrit club continues : I also presume that there's a bit more contact between ex-presidents than we all hear about.
posted by peacay at 3:57 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Slack-a-gogo: "pwally: "Crap. I want to know secret stuff soo bad."

What you want is the ultimate William Poundstone book! I'd love that - even if it was just a quick peek.
"

OMFG! I would check that fucker out from the library so often (I'd hazard I was the only one who checked it out from our meager library)... Urine in Perfume! KFC and Coke recipes! Oh man!
posted by symbioid at 4:44 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there is a lot of information kept from the president. Plausible deniability and all that.

Some, ah, president said, in response to some secret operation, that he was "out of the loop" or something, didn't he?
posted by carping demon at 6:51 PM on November 30, 2011


Ellsberg has managed to create a story where he can take a dig at Kissenger and tell us all smart and above it he was.

Is this where his betrayal began. His own ego wrapped in a moment where he would try to dominate Kissenger with a "things I've seen play". I'd love to hear the audio of the congestion and read Kissengers diary that day.
posted by humanfont at 7:27 PM on November 30, 2011


If this story is true, then it sounds to me like an admission that these secrets make it so that the average citizen, or even a citizen who is a presumed expert in a field, cannot effective participate in the US government because of lack of access to information. Presumably, it would make it so that the leaders of the US would be correct to completely ignore those outside the secrecy circle. This undermines the entire democratic process.

I have not been a huge fan of Wikileaks, but nothing I have seen so swayed me towards the abolition of most (if not all) of these secrets than this admission.
posted by roquetuen at 7:48 PM on November 30, 2011 [22 favorites]


roquetuen: I have not been a huge fan of Wikileaks, but nothing I have seen so swayed me towards the abolition of most (if not all) of these secrets than this admission.

Scary isn't it, but then I think about what yoink said..


yoink: Is there a really good example of a foreign policy decision or a political action that at the time seemed utterly insane but which later declassified information has rendered entirely explicable?

Part of what's so scary is the amount of money hemorrhaged into pointless churning.


gilrain, I agree, Yes Minister is brilliant stuff. However, your appreciation wouldn't be complete without watching Adam Curtis' The Trap (especially the first episode, if I remember right).
posted by Chuckles at 8:07 PM on November 30, 2011


Unfortunately, blithe indifference to affected humans is now considered a prerequisite to attain these credentials. so - problem _solved_........
posted by onesidys at 8:24 PM on November 30, 2011


Is this where his betrayal began.

Who did he betray exactly?

“I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision."
- Daniel Ellsberg
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:09 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


"First, you'll be exhilarated by some of this new information .. Second, you will feel like a fool, and that will last for about two weeks .. Over a longer period of time — not too long, but a matter of two or three years — you'll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information .. The danger is, you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours."

I hear George W. Bush was such a fast learner, he went straight to the moron stage without passing through Stages 1, 2 and 3.
posted by verstegan at 1:28 AM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


backseatpilot: "Granted, it's really boring stuff, but still."

This. Seriously this is why nothing earth-shattering appears when things are declassified. That plus 25 (or more) years of history and rehashing and hindsight making "AHA" moments of 1986 seem rather mundane in 2011. 99.9% of all the super secret TS//XXX info in the world is mind-numbingly boring unless you're pretty intimately familiar with the context surrounding it. The point of classification is keeping that info from people who know the context and would use this extra morsel of information to do harm.
posted by This Guy at 5:20 AM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


So does everyone on Metafilter have some sort of special clearances?

I am unaware of any such activity or operation, nor would I be disposed to discuss such an operation if it did, in fact, exist.
posted by elizardbits at 9:06 AM on December 1, 2011


You can say "no" now. It's much easier than that long-ass boilerplate.
posted by wierdo at 10:10 AM on December 1, 2011


You can use "whoosh" now, it's a lot easier than typing out a whole comment.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:38 AM on December 1, 2011


At the conclusion of this thread, please report to your nearest Homeland Security office for administering of Bat-Gas and/or immediate execution. Thank you.
posted by briank at 11:19 AM on December 1, 2011


But it makes a lot more sense when you figure the conversations you would inevitably overhear just hanging around the place. The guy who pours Obama's orange juice is privy to a lot of heavy shit.

It's also not just about information. It's also about saying "We are, to within a high degree of certainty, confident that this person cannot be blackmailed or bribed to, slip something into said orange juice, and would not do so to promote the interests of a foreign power."
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:42 AM on December 1, 2011


Since we've already brought up Yes (Prime) Minister, which you should all be watching right this instant if you've never seen it, this wonderful clip has always pretty much summed up Ellsberg's point to me. It's a 20-30 year old show, and yet practically every line and reference applies just as well today.
Sir Humphrey: "Now go in there and inform me of their conversation."
Bernard Woolley: "I'm not sure I can do that, Sir Humphrey. It might be confidential."
Sir Humphrey: "Bernard, the matter at issue is the defence of the realm and the stability of the government."
Bernard Woolley: "But you only need to know things on a need to know basis."
Sir Humphrey: "I need to know everything! How else can I judge whether or not I need to know it?"
Bernard Woolley: "So that means you need to know things even when you don't need to know. You need to know them not because you need to know them, but because you need to know whether or not you need to know. And if you don't need to know you still need to know, so that you know there is no need to know."
posted by zachlipton at 1:26 PM on December 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


villanelles at dawn wrote: You can use "whoosh" now, it's a lot easier than typing out a whole comment

*woosh*
posted by wierdo at 3:04 PM on December 1, 2011


All this whooshing is fucking up my hair.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 6:05 PM on December 1, 2011


Slack-a-gogo: "pwally: "Crap. I want to know secret stuff soo bad."

What you want is the ultimate William Poundstone book! I'd love that - even if it was just a quick peek.
"

I recommend neither of you resist actively when the MiB's show up. Then it just hurts worse and we risk damaging civilian assets.

Do we understand now?
posted by Samizdata at 6:54 PM on December 1, 2011


wierdo: "You can say "no" now. It's much easier than that long-ass boilerplate."

I can neither confirm or deny that such an answer as "no" is applicable at this juncture.
posted by Samizdata at 7:09 PM on December 1, 2011


I can neither confirm or deny that such an answer as "no" is applicable at this juncture.

I heard a US Navy MT2 utter the following phrase, which was an amazing example of someone doing exactly what they were ordered not to do while doing what they were ordered to do.

"I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on my boomer."
posted by eriko at 8:01 PM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wonder what the sekkrit information was that convinced Obama NOT to fight the insurance companies and big-pharma in order to get a decent health care bill, thus effectively emasculating his one claim to fame?

Giant piles of cash?
posted by odinsdream at 8:10 PM on December 1, 2011


I think the better question is "are there people that have access to stuff the president doesn't?" Because I'm sure I have some information that the president doesn't (currently) know, but could acquire if he asked for it.

I think one exception is federal tax information. As I understand it, this information is available only for job related purposes (by statute). So the president, can't just call up Joe Smith's tax return because he's curious about it based on the fact that he supervises the tax system, the way he can defense information.
posted by Jahaza at 8:42 PM on December 1, 2011


the information was not secret. It was 'we will filibuster you if you do this.' Signed, the Republican party.
posted by felix at 8:49 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd be OK with the president checking out my tax information. Really. I'm sure the FBI or DHS or whatever already knows a lot more about me than how much I contributed to Social Security last year.
posted by hafehd at 10:06 PM on December 1, 2011


I think one exception is federal tax information.

Lots of exceptions when it comes to personal privacy, obviously. There is a bit of a controversy up here over the federal government accessing private service and medical records of Afghan veterans, for example.
posted by Chuckles at 10:18 PM on December 1, 2011


Sometimes on Metafilter there will be a link to an article that's amazing and wonderful, but I only come across it a couple of days later, after it's fallen off the front page, because the text of the FPP didn't do a terrific job of announcing its worth.

This is one of the most important links I've ever seen on the front page of the blue. It makes me want to trumpet its worth to the heavens. If I had found it on another website, the very next thing I would have done is come straight here and post it.
posted by JHarris at 6:28 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ellsberg was one of McManara's guys. He delivered the news about te incident in te Gulf of Tonkin. He wasn't just 19 year old kid who stumbled onto some collection of horrifying national secrets while he was bored and cruising file directory trees. He was an insider a policy architect. He got those secrets and thought he knew more. His story is he went to a an anti war rally one day and had a moment of conscience. Another way to read it is he was middle managent and e got shoved aside when new people came in over him and shoved him aside.

I think it is interesting Felt aka Deep Throat and Ellsberg may have given us critical information for what were more personal grievances instead of conscience.
posted by humanfont at 6:36 PM on December 3, 2011


Another vote here for Yes (Prime) Minister, a national treasure, the sharpest scripted (Anthony Jay, Jonathan Lynn) comedy sitcom from an age when comedy giants walked the UK and quality of writing was prized. The books worked just as well and have moved to the top of my list of books to re-read next year.
posted by epo at 1:44 AM on December 4, 2011


I work for the White House, which required a bunch of background check stuff, but I have absolutely no idea of what sort of clearance that I have.

Which probably means my clearance sucks.
posted by waldo at 7:27 PM on December 5, 2011


[hey folks, no bringing profile information over here please, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:59 PM on December 5, 2011


Okay, just tell Obama to legalize it for me.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:50 PM on December 5, 2011


Pentagon Papers leaker tries to talk with accused Wiki-leaker
posted by homunculus at 11:28 AM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


A debate between Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald and Cliff May about Bradley Manning: Punishing the whistleblower?

More from Greenwald: The intellectual cowardice of Bradley Manning’s critics
posted by homunculus at 11:31 AM on December 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Greenwald subheading: Those wanting the Army Private imprisoned are afraid to condemn the virtually identical acts of Daniel Ellsberg

I'm a critic of Manning and Ellsberg. I'm not afraid to condemn Ellsberg. Ellsberg is more
deserving of punishment. Ellsberg was a direct participant in covering up the various misdeeds of Vietnam. He was a high ranking well placed policy guy who had the ear of the architects of the Vietnam war from the Gulf of Tonkin onward. Only when he got pushed aside by Kissenger did he suddenly discover his conscience and then take deliberate efforts to sabotage Kissenger and Nixon's foreign policy. Manning was some 19 year old kid who fucked up. However given his junior status and the many red flags which his superiors declined to act on I'm willing to cut him some slack. Though I think 24-36 months ought to do it for mishandling classified intel. More if the government can prove someone died as a result of his actions.
posted by humanfont at 3:04 PM on December 24, 2011


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