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Friday, November 20, 2015

The importance of protecting confidential information, even after retirement.

The need to access confidential information is not limited to persons working for intelligence agencies.  The U.S. Government employs hundreds of professionals who work in the intelligence for numerous different agencies and departments.  In order for persons to work in the intelligence field, they must pass a background investigation and a polygraph examination.  A successful completion of the investigation with result in the individual being granted a clearance.  There are many retired U.S. government employees who at one time or another had a clearance, including former officers of the Department of State, Department of Defense, Homeland Security and the FBI.  These Americans are entrusted with enough secrets to probably cripple our nation, even after they have left active service.  Although it is vital to have the latest intelligence, some secrets keep their value for a very long time.  The United States has done a tremendous job choosing intelligence officers, as very few Americans trusted with secrets have decided to betray their country.

Unfortunately, some individuals have made that terrible decision and shared classified information with uncleared persons.  In the past, a few CIA officers have traded secrets with the Russians for financial compensation, and I believe at one time a Department of Defense employee with access to classified intelligence betrayed his country at the request of a woman (who turned out to be a Soviet spy).  I don't know much about these persons who have committed the ultimate betrayal, mostly because those events occurred years before I made the choice to enter the intelligence field.  What I do remember vividly is the trial of U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, and the revelations of former NSA employee Edward Snowden.  I realize that some folks draw a distinction between these two cases, but I don't.  Both men had agreed to treat classified information in accordance with the rules and regulations of the U.S. Army and the National Security Agency.  Both men showed a complete lack of integrity by breaking that vow.  I understand the sympathy for Snowden; many Americans are concerned that the U.S. Government may have exceeded its mandate with regards to intelligence collection and the American public.  I have complete confidence that the U.S. Government is not illegally collecting information on U.S. citizens, nor has it exceeded the bounds of its mission to provide security for the American people in a time of war.  If Snowden felt that his employer had overreached its marching orders, then he should have quit.  As a former NSA officer, he would have been able to write a book or speak publicly about his concerns, as long as he didn't reveal classified information.  This particular issue is so important to me because when Manning and Snowden released classified information, they very well could have put people's lives in jeopardy.  Snowden may THINK he knows what was included in the information he released, but the reality is, he probably has no clue.  But the enemy may understand the released documents in a way that escapes Snowden, because he isn't trained as an operational Case Officer, and therefore can't fully grasp what is included in the cables that he read on a daily basis.  Its very simple: if you can no longer abide by the obligations of confidentiality that have been agreed to, then you need to resign and find other work.

As stated earlier, the importance of confidentiality and protecting classified information does not end when a person retires.  The U.S. Government fully expects its retired officers who at one time or another during their careers were exposed to classified intelligence, to respect the rules and regulations of security until they die.  After medically retiring, I wrote a memoir about my career.  I followed the process put in place for retired Agency officers who write a book; I submitted by manuscript for review in its entirety, and what they Agency chose to redact, was permanently removed.  This includes photographs that were selected for inclusion in the book.  And when I speak publicly, I never exceed the bounds of what was included in my book.  I am firm believer in the rules of confidentiality; I have seen good security practice save lives, and unfortunately, I've seen bad security destroy lives.  When a Case Officer is conducting a confidential meeting with an asset overseas, his dedication to tradecraft is necessary to protect the life of his asset.  When an Officer working in the Pentagon reviews a classified document on a current operation, that Officer must show the same dedication and respect for security as the Case Officer overseas.  And there are no "do-overs".  The CIA does a tremendous job training its officers to understand and respect the procedures in-place to protect classified information; the old World War II British poster with the phrase, "Lose Lips Sinks Ships", is just as relevant today as it was then.  If you decide to embark on a career in the Intelligence Field, understand that it will more than likely be a very rewarding experience.  Also understand that all it takes is one careless mistake, one time bending the rules, for people to lose their lives.  Its a tremendous responsibility.

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