A tale of a non-story


By Bill Taylor



It seems to me that the huge uproar centering on the disclosure of a conversation between the former national security advisor to the president and the Russian ambassador to the United States has two parts -two stories. The first – the one seized upon by the Democrats and their advocates in the news media – is about the content of the phone call.

The president and members of his administration have repeatedly stated the phone call and the content thereof were proper, but the responses to inquiries about the conversation were “inappropriate”which led to the national security advisor’s resignation. This evaluation is unacceptable to those dedicated to causing disruption in the political scene and discrediting the president and therefor remains the story dominating both the print and the electronic media.

So what about the second story – the revelation that the phone of the Russian ambassador was “tapped”? For those who are unfamiliar with the classification process a short tutorial is probably appropriate to put this into perspective.

Intelligence material is classified for two reasons: protecting the content; and shielding the source, that is, where the information comes from. Content is protected by various levels of classification with the least sensitive material being classified “Confidential”, the next higher being “Secret” and the most important being “Top Secret.” Individuals are vetted and granted “clearances” for information at these levels but not everyone with a given security clearance has access to everything at that level. Okay, but how about shielding the source?

Some sources are more sensitive than others which results in “compartmentalization” in addition to classification. What this amounts to is that the source of some information is restricted to those who have a strict “need to know.” To this end, additional vetting and clearances are put into place and “codewords” are often added to the normal classification designations. Thus one might find a report labeled, “Top Secret Oriole” or “Secret Bluebell” indicating a special clearance is required to gain access.

Human sources particularly need protection because lives are at stake. Recall how the Pakistani physician who helped us confirm the identity of Osama Bin Laden was inadvertently “outed” by the administration? He was subsequently arrested by the local authorities and reportedly died a horrible, extremely painful death.

Another sensitive source of information requiring shielding by classification and a “need to know” restriction is the electronic eavesdropping on communications – which was the case here. A transcript of a phone conversation between the Russian ambassador and the then-designated national security advisor was furnished to the press. Both the content and the source were compromised by a “mole” or informer who, for personal, political, and/or financial reasons, decided to violate the oath required for access to such material – that’s a criminal act.

Sounds like a story, right? To the contrary, this is a “non-story” because the news media considers illegal behavior of this sort as simply part of their news-gathering job – and that they are above the law and immune from prosecution. This concept was made abundantly clear during a recent panel discussion on C-SPAN involving famous reporters from the Washington Post, the New York Times and their legal expert – citing the 1971 Supreme Court ruling permitting publication of “The Pentagon Papers”as a precedent. They figuratively thumbed their noses at the millions of people who have kept their oath to safeguard classified material and shield sources – as they laughingly claimed their exemption from prosecution.

Yep, as long as reporters get the story they could care less about the consequences – such as the chilling effect this particular event has had on our relations with foreign governments. After all, which foreign government official would dare have a phone call with a U S official, including the president himself, knowing that conversation might well show up on the front page or nightly news?

Well, other presidents have had difficulty with “leaks” of classified information and have tried, without much success, to stop this illegal activity. You know, maybe one solution might be to pass our own version of the United Kingdom’s Official Secrets Act that would specifically identify revealing classified material, regardless of content, to the news media as a criminal act – not withstanding the “Hillary defense” that there were no classification markings when the information was received. A few convictions just might deter the snitches and their sponsors a bit. At least that’s how it seems to me.

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at solie1@juno.com.

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at solie1@juno.com.