Thursday, October 22, 2015


     The NSA declassified a top secret document entitled “Maybe You Had to Be There” The SIGINT on Thirteen Society Shoot Downs of U.S. Reconnaissance Aircraft” by Michael L. Peterson. It was originally published in the clandestine journal Cryptologic Quarterly in 1993, but the NSA declassified the manuscript after inadvertently publishing it several days ago. It appeared on the NSA website with all of its classified passages intact.
     Section 3.1(d) of executive order13526 permits the declassification of properly classified information when there is an overriding public interest in doing so. This has hardly ever, or never, been done before and apparently was used to justify the slip-up. Section 3 reads as follows:
"3.1(d) It is presumed that information that continues to meet the classification requirements under this order requires continued protection. In some exceptional cases, however, the need to protect such information may be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure of the information, and in these cases the information should be declassified. When such questions arise, they shall be referred to the agency head or the senior agency official. That official will determine, as an exercise of discretion, whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs the damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure...."
     The NSA Public Affairs Office has not explained what was "exceptional" about this particular NSA historical study, what the overriding public interest in it was that justified its complete declassification despite its presumed eligibility for continued classification, or what the unavoidable damage was expected to result from its disclosure.
     It is believed by some that the swift NSA declassification of the document was to conceal the fact that they had mistakenly published the full classified text of the document on its website, even after refusing requests by some to have it declassified- in 2009, aerospace writer Peter Pesavento requested its declassification under the Mandatory Declassification Review process, and NSA released a heavily dedacted version of the document. Pesavento then appealed to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, whereupon the Panel agreed to publish some additional portions of the document while the rest remained classified.
     But then on May 9, the National Security Agency puzzlingly published the entire document on its website. Instead of blacking out the classified portions, they were inadvertently highlighted and the entire hush-hush manuscript was available. On May 10th, when NSA was asked about the complete disclosure of top secret portions of the document, they removed it from their website without more ado.
     But, Secrecy News and others had already copied the uncensored classified document. The classified document does not appear to meet current classification standards. but simply wanted to preempt the re-posting of the classified document by hastily declassifying it.
     Interestingly, the classified versions of the article that was posted online by NSA, with the classified paragraphs marked with the basis for their classification. According to Secrecy News, this material has previously been regarded as a threat of "serious damage" to national security if disclosed. But, it has all been made freely available for public consumption.
     OSINT News read the document and it appears to be distant from any possible national security threat to America. It is very informative with its depiction of signals intelligence uncovering the thirteen attacks by the Soviets upon U.S. aircraft between 1950 and 1964. In short, it’s “ancient history”, according to the author.
     OSINT News feels this published manuscript pays homage to the NSA for its protection of us all, decades ago, in the face of Soviet global aggression and the threat of thermonuclear war. “Baby boomers”, like myself, remember the practice drills in elementary school, where we hid under 
our school desks in case of a soviet nuclear strike. I don’t know about you, but as a child I was fearful of Soviet aggression. I’ll never forget the U-2 incident in 1960, when Gary Powers was shot out of the sky. Last night I saw "The Bridge of Spies" and it brought back old memories of the U-2 spy plane shoot-down over Russian.
     Apparently, the NSA has put back this 44-page article by NSA historian Michael L. Peterson on its website. Gary Powers was a brave American and was one of 13 incidents where the Soviets attacked our reconnaissance aircraft. This now available document is a testimonial to the NSA and its attempts to shield us from harm. And, OSINT News is confident they're continuing to do so. We support the NSA, along with the entire IC, in their efforts to protect America from harm in this new war against radical Islam. And, we support the NSA and the rest of the IC in keeping their sources and methods secret, a difficult task in the digital world infested with a prying Congress, Wikileaks mentality hackers, and a naive public of what this war against global jihad entails.
     The issue over this particular NSA classified document is not a threat to America's national security. In this new war, which will no doubt last longer than the Cold War, the real threat is willingly leaking vital information by individuals privy to such knowledge. There is no paper trail in a digital world. 
     John Jay, agent of America’s diplomatic affairs, frustrated that the Congress consisted of too many members to keep America’s most vital secrets, stated, “Congress never could keep any matter strictly confidential; someone always babbled”...circa 1784.
     OSINT News upholds the belief of Katherine Graham, who stated, "We live in a dirty and dangerous world ... There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows".

Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. is a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and writes about the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). A portion (10%) of this site's ad revenues is donated to the AFIO. The views expressed on this site do not represent those of any organization he is a member of. We're always looking for different perspectives regarding the Intelligence Community- got a thought, article or comment you'd like to submit? Contact us on the Secure Contact Form

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