Opinion: Does the ‘N’ in NSA stand for nonsense?

APphoto_Obama NSA Surveillance
Shhhh! It’s a secret! The National Security Agency won’t release a report on what information it has already divulged publicly.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

OK, try to wrap your head around this.

Earlier this year the Federation of American Scientists filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Security Agency seeking a copy of a report it sent to Congress detailing authorized disclosures of classified information to the media. The request was rejected. Why? Because the report is classified.

Yes, a report on what information has been released to the media was deemed classified, though by definition the information was already available through the media.

As Steven Aftergood notes on the FAS’ Secrecy News blog:


“The notion of an authorized disclosure of classified information is close to being a contradiction in terms. If something is classified, how can its disclosure be authorized (without declassification)? And if something is disclosed by an official who is authorized to do so, how can it still be classified? And yet, it seems that there is such a thing.”

Further, there seems to be such a thing as a public secret.

Does your head hurt yet?

“It’s ridiculous for the government to claim documents leaked from unauthorized sources are somehow still secret even though the public has access to them,” Tim Cushing writes at TechDirt. “For it to make the same claim for documents it selectively chose to ‘leak’ is preposterous and highly hypocritical.”


He notes that Aftergood has appealed the rejected FOIA.

“Whether or not this will have any effect on the NSA remains to be seen,” Cushing writes. “But so far, the only proven method to obtaining documents from the highly-secretive agency seems to result in Russian exile.”

Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.

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