Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 16, 2010

American Secrets and the Washington Post

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on July 16, 2010

I received the following from a sometimes commentator on this blog:

The Washington Post will run a series of stories… that will contain a compendium of government agencies and contractors allegedly conducting Top Secret work.  The stories will also include an interactive database.

One agency affected by the stories issued the document republished below.

From an operational perspective, …[p]ublishing the locations of these facilities could be problematic from a safety and security concern.

From an academic perspective, how do we reconcile the desire to safeguard our country from foreign and domestic adversaries in an global environment that rewards the near real-time release of sensitive or classified information?


Notice to Industry Partners

Subject: Potential Disclosure of Contract Information

Early next week, the Washington Post is expected to publish articles and an interactive website that will likely contain a compendium of government agencies and contractors allegedly conducting Top Secret work. The website is expected to enable users to see the relationships between the federal government and its contractors, describe the type of work the contractors perform, and may identify many government and contractor facility locations.

Publication is expected starting July 19, 2010 with additional articles published thereafter. We request that all _____ contractors remind all cleared employees of their responsibility to protect classified information and relationships, and to abide by contractual agreements regarding non-publicity.

Employees should be reminded that they must neither confirm nor deny information contained in this, or any, media publication, and that the publication of this website does not constitute a change in any current ____ classifications. They should also be reminded that if approached and asked to discuss their work by media or unauthorized people, they should report the interactions to their appropriate security officer.

Foreign intelligence services, terrorist organizations, and criminal elements will have potential interest in this kind of information. It is important that companies review their overall counterintelligence posture to ensure that it is appropriate. Specifically, we recommend that companies affected by this publication and website assess and take steps to mitigate risk to their workforce, facility and mission, to the extent consistent with your contractual relationship with ____. These steps should include re-enforcement of security and counterintelligence protections and steps to enhance workforce awareness. CI and security events related to the publication of these articles and website should be reported through normal company channels to the ___Security office. For the time being, thresholds should be lowered to aggressively report anomalous behavior.

Should your management or public affairs offices be contacted by the media, any response must be consistent with your contract. If appropriate, you may also refer media inquiries to ___

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Comment by Christopher Bellavita

July 16, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

Another colleague, Rodrigo Nieto Gómez, reminded me of what Robert Oppenheimer had to say about government secrecy (reprinted here: http://openjurist.org/418/us/676):

“The trouble with secrecy is that it denies to the government itself the wisdom and the resources of the whole community, of the whole country, and the only way you can do this is to let almost anyone say what he thinks—to try to give the best synopses, the best popularizations, the best mediations of technical things that you can, and to let men deny what they think is false—argue what they think is false, you have to have a free and uncorrupted communication.

‘And this is—this is so the heart of living in a complicated technological world—it is so the heart of freedom that that is why we are all the time saying, ‘Does this really have to be secret?’ ‘Couldn’t you say more about that?’ ‘Are we really acting in a wise way?’ Not because we enjoy chattering—not because we are not aware of the dangers of the world we live in, but because these dangers cannot be met in any other ways.

‘The fact is, our government cannot do without us—all of us.”

A 30 second audio excerpt of Oppenheimer’s speech can be found here: http://www.history.com/audio/speeches-j-robert-oppenheimer-on-government-secrecy#speeches-j-robert-oppenheimer-on-government-secrecy

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 16, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

WOW! WAPO trying to live up to its past?
Why is it I doubt that this WAPO effort could accomplish living up to its past. Has neither the resources or talent it once did. After ripping off of students trying to better themselves through unnecessary testing has resulted in the KAPLAN unit of WAPO generating over 70% of its total profits. Now that would make a great story.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

July 16, 2010 @ 4:12 pm

I find somewhat amusing the reluctance of your source to even name the department that sent out that particular release. Just because obviously such things will get around, and it won’t be the only department sending out such emails.


Amusing because concern about a story regarding secrecy begets secrecy that is unsustainable and not really required in the first place.

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

July 16, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

Arnold — I should have been clearer in the original post. I chose not to publish the agency’s name (not DoS) because I did not think it was as relevant as the information in the memo. The source did not ask me to do that. I take your point, however, about secrecy begetting secrecy into infinity, and will try to be more conscious of that in the future.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

July 16, 2010 @ 5:11 pm

I think my reaction is something of a recoil from what I perceive to be a reflexive turn to secrecy in all matters of homeland security. So I guess I find myself in Oppenheimer’s camp.

We’ll all have to wait for the actual stories to run, but the link I posted above and this one, http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/07/nations-spies-contractors-brace-for-post-expose/all/1, seem to suggest that the focus will be on contractors and their intel-related contracts. It could turn out to be less of a counter-intelligence breech (I’d bet contractor facebook pages and twitter accounts present a far more serious problem than this upcoming expose), than a public good that considers if our taxpayer money is being well spent for the requirements of national security in these cases.

If its true that all the information is open source as opposed to leaks, than all the better.

In terms of homeland security, this reminds me of a thought I had regarding an earlier post by Phil. He points out that long standing members of the national security community don’t seem to consider “new” homeland security types as equals. I always get the feeling that those involved in homeland security are too quick to adopt some of the worst practices ingrained within the national security community. Among these is a too-quick turn to secrecy when secrets are not being protected but rather prestige endowed upon those with access.

So if a first responder can’t read or distribute truly classified information, FOUO gets stamped on the cover instead. Often this includes such documents as open source news stories with two sentences of “analysis.”

Information that is not truly sensitive is marked sensitive because of the sensitivities of the handlers.

Comment by John Comiskey

July 17, 2010 @ 4:48 am


Secrets typically don’t last long. OSINT, grey literature, and contractor-specific infotell (information-intelligence) are available to varying degrees to people-in the know and more often than not those not necessarily in the know but curious for any number of reasons.

Infotell- control is a near-oxymoron and especially so in the information age. Misclassification that prevented information sharing was highly criticized by the 9/11 Commission and continues to plague government. The 2010 National Security Strategy recognizes the value of government’s partnership with the private sector. That equates to better information sharing and less classification –a near-OSINT domain –roughly 80% of all intelligence [1] .

Notwithstanding, the need [not desire] to safeguard our country from all adversaries in a infotell-global environment requires that all players respect the power and sensitivity of information. As a child, my father taught me that a gentleman was discrete in most things simply because some things are best left unsaid in most situations.

[1]And not your most un-favorite 86% and no I don’t have any metrics to validate that claim –but you might watch the BBC, CNN, Fox or surf the net

Comment by Secrecy and Its Importance

July 18, 2010 @ 4:24 am

It is truly disheartening that the Washington Post is to deliver such information to the public – We dfo not need it – Information on Goldman Sachs and Barry’s administration is what we truly need to see, a pictorial and CV recape of each individual raping our citizen of assets and identity –

While I am a proud and staunch civilian supporter of our Constitition and Love our beloved Republic, in this time of uncertainty and our concern as to you Mr. President and your oh…so many administration’s ties to Goldman Sachs, never mind AQ or the Taliban, we here on Main Street USA applaud the 25×7 commitment in diligence and same Love for our nation by the folks at NSA and the intel community….

….and while we know little of what these “contractors” are involved in or who they are in fact, our need not know – not at this time – not when the Chinese have ramped up their spying networks as well as others as we have seen – people living here among us – this is a dangerous world and we are well aware and understand the necessity to serve and protect often with most of us knowing little or nothing –

Unfortunately it is “Mr. Barney” and “Smug-smiled Pelosi” we truly worry about and of more importance to us here on Main Street is the fact that the Washington Post and every other media outlet have blantently failed us and our nation as it is Not the contractors carrying out specific tasks, but the Goldman Sachs network where Goldman Sachs has its hands in the cookie jar and no one has done an extensive reporting of individual bu individual by name and post, present and past ties to Goldman Sachs….

….as this is our real problem as we are becoming enslaved and rights stripped from us and soon even reporters will be expected to be licensed and freeedom to report the news will be monitored and controled even more closely than at present –

I(we)reiterate, we are more worried about Barry and his GS cohorts than our need to know who the contractors are and related information as to their missions and tasks.

We are proud of the men and women who commit themselves daily to serve and protect us whether first responders or those serving our national security and soveriegn identity for quickly We here on Main Street USA are losing our identity and we can assure you that those responsible like you Mr. President et al who are causing the national debt to far outreach imagination in exponential numbers are our concern and in fact, those who are in the know, addressing more and more sophisticated cybersecurity requirements and those contractors addressing the reality of those seeking our demise and quite capable of carrying our dastardly acts of cold blooded murder of multiple numbers of innocents have our support here on Main Street USA for our beloved Republic is udner attack from far yonder and from within –

Why is it that the Washington Post is so anxious to print and report subject and not showing a pictorial portrayal by CV of those in the administration and those with ties to Barry et al – why?

There a local comcast production up in the Boston area called The Real Story w/a fellow Daniel Happine I believe some one shared the other day who in fact did such a story of Goldman Sachs and while we are on lovely Cape Cod far from the city, news of this Goldman Sachs national security threat is what all in the media should be reporting – not affording foreign interests such information anout the intel community and subject contractors – the DoD and other agencies related to our national defense have enough responsibilities and we are confident that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are knowing who the “contractors” are and what they carry out each day –

We need to see the Goldman Sachs relationships to our government which is bankrupt more than 12 trillion times and gridlocked – failing daily –

….at a time when all points to War especially breaking out in the Gulf states as Tehran has a clear agenda which unfortunately will be to their demise, yet will cause much upheaval and anguish –

God Bless America!

Citizen Joe
Harwich, MA 02645 (Cape Cod) USA

Comment by John Comiskey

July 18, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

Citizen Joe,

We may not need much of the information, but we have it ad naseum and sometimes to our detrement.

Governments have always used privateers/contractors to govern. The 2010 National Security Strategy recognizes the requisite relationship of government and the private sector to sustain our way of life. That means more government contractors and information sharing.

The challenge to our way of life is to provide the requiste information to those who genuinely need it while restricting its use elsewhere ….all the while we must respect our cherished Constitution. I return to my father’s advice; if you think you should be discrete -trust yourself and be discrete.

Finaly, I don’t think we’re loosing our national identity so much as we are growing it and for the most part that is a good thing.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Top Secret America – Washington Post Investigation Unveiled

July 19, 2010 @ 11:06 am

[…] has occurred in the past nine years.  Chris Bellavita, as some of your might recall, noted the series in a Friday blog post American Secrets and the Washington Post last […]

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