A "need to know" is one of the most time-tested principles of
information security. According to this principle, if you don't have such a
need, you should not be given access to classified or other sensitive data.
Even if you think you have a "need to know," moreover, unless
appropriate background checks have been performed -- establishing that you
can be trusted to treat such information confidentially -- and the requisite
security clearances (known in the government as "tickets") issued, you do
not qualify. In sum, the basic rule has been: No tickets, no access.
That, at least, was the general practice until the Clinton
administration came to office, empowering a number of individuals who were
critical of governmental secrecy in general and the so-called "abuse" of
classification procedures in particular. Madeleine Albright, Tobi Goti,
Hazel O'Leary, Anthony Lake, Morton Halperin and John Podesta were among the
senior officials who, during the Clinton years in one way or another,
pursued a different approach.
For example, former Secretary of State Albright, and her
Department's intelligence chief, Mrs. Goti, believed that "sharing"
sensitive U.S. intelligence with other nations would demonstrate the
validity of American charges about their involvement in proliferation. The
predictable result was confirmed in a front-page article in Sunday's
Washington Post about Russian-Iranian missile cooperation over the past
decade: The recipients of such information were generally more interested
in ascertaining -- and terminating -- the ways in which it was obtained than
in ending their proliferation activities. All too often, putting them "in
the know" meant that, thereafter, we would be kept in the dark, having lost
irreplaceable intelligence collection "sources and methods."
Then there was the security-wrecking operation engaged in by former
Secretary of Energy O'Leary and the anti-nuclear activists she chose to
staff key jobs in her department. For instance, she blithely ended the
nuclear weapons laboratories' traditional practice of giving different
colored badges to lab personnel based on their "need to know" and levels of
security clearance. Her rationale? It would be discriminatory to those
(notably, Chinese, Russian, Iranian and other foreign nationals) who had
neither. We may never fully know how much damage was done as a direct or
indirect result of the climate of insecurity and dysfunctionality created in
the nuclear weapons complex by O'Leary and Company.
An even more ominous legacy, however, may be that resulting from
the compulsory declassification requirements promulgated by President
Clinton at the urging of his then-National Security Advisor Tony Lake, Mort
Halperin (at the time one of his chief lieutenants on the NSC staff) and
John Podesta, who ultimately served as White House Chief of Staff.
According to the champions of this approach, everybody had a "need to know"
about most government secrets; Clinton directed that -- in the interest of
good government -- after a certain number of years, basically all of them
were to be put into the public domain.
In some cases (prominent among them the Department of Energy), the
arbitrary deadline and the quantity of secrets to be revealed meant that
those responsible for declassifying old, but potentially still highly
sensitive, information were obliged to give documents containing such data
only the most cursory of security reviews. As a result, whole boxes full of
classified information were sometimes summarily deemed declassified and made
accessible to anyone who wanted to review their contents. Presumably, among
that number were scientists from nuclear wannabe states like North Korea,
Iran and Iraq. Findings in the caves of Afghanistan suggest that they may
have included operatives of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, as
Fortunately, to build even primitive atomic weapons, let alone
thermonuclear arms, one must have not only know-how but access to fairly
complex and expensive manufacturing capabilities. The bad news is that that
is not the case with biological weapons (BW). Knowledgeable people can use
commercially available fertilizer and pharmaceutical equipment to create
batches of viruses that can be employed with devastating effect.
Now, the New York Times reports that the Clinton declassification
requirements have caused U.S. government agencies to make publicly available
what amount to BW "cook books" -- "hundreds of formerly secret documents
that tell how to turn dangerous germs into deadly weapons." According to
Sunday's Times, "For $15, anyone can buy 'Selection of Process for
Freeze-Drying, Particle Size Reduction and Filling of Selected BW Agents,'
or germs for biological warfare. The 57-page report, dated 1952, includes
plans for a pilot factory that could produce dried germs in powder form,
designed to lodge in human lungs." In the wrong hands, this recipe could
enable a future terrorist attack that would make the recent anthrax letters,
and even the destruction of the World Trade Center, pale by comparison.
In a number of areas, the Bush Administration has, since coming to
office a year ago, taken steps to undo lunatic policies inherited from its
predecessor. These include, notably: the unworkably expensive and
inequitable Kyoto Protocol; business-crippling ergonomics rules; open-ended
adherence to the vulnerability-dictating Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty;
inaction on the Yucca Mountain repository for nuclear waste and other
impediments to national energy self-sufficiency; and an invitation to
industrial and governmental espionage masquerading as a protocol to the
Biological Weapons Convention.
A no less worrisome legacy is the Clinton declassification agenda.
Particularly in the midst of the war on terrorism, it is imperative that
President Bush reestablish proven and prudential information security
practices. Given the very serious stakes, should Mr. Bush fail to take
corrective action on this score, the American people will certainly have a
legitimate need to know the reason why.