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Posted at 11:49 AM ET, 12/ 1/2010

In the age of WikiLeaks, what happened to 'need to know' principle?

By Colbert King

How in the world did Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst assigned to a battalion of a division stationed in Iraq, allegedly get his hands on 250,000 State Department classified documents, many, if not most, of which had nothing to do with Iraq, the Middle East or military action?

What happened to the "need to know" principle?

During my service with the State Department several years ago, I had access to classified materials based upon a Top Secret clearance I was granted. It was made clear to me when I received my clearance that I was not being given unrestricted access to all classified information at my clearance level. I had access to such materials, it was explained, on a strictly "need to know" basis, meaning I could only see and handle such materials if they were connected to my job.

It so happened that a major part of my responsibilities was the protection of sensitive materials, including classified diplomatic cables. So my access was broad. But even there, my requests for such materials was based upon having a legitimate need to know how they were being handled, protected and, in some cases, compromised.

Many of the sensitive diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, now being read the newspapers and on websites, are from a source, suspected to be Manning, who, by dint of his assignment, would seem to have no genuine need to know about assessments of foreign leaders and reports on diplomatic activities in Europe, Africa and Asia.

From this sordid and damaging episode, it appears "need to know" has given way to a modern day practice of "nice to know," which means any and everybody with or without a clearance now gets to know.

So much for national security.

By Colbert King  | December 1, 2010; 11:49 AM ET
Categories:  King  | Tags:  Colbert King  
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Comments

that's an excellent question. I haven't heard anyone talking about it.. any ideas why people in the know aren't talking about this?

Posted by: newagent99 | December 1, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I had a Top Secret clearance working as a Navy CTI (interpreter-- Vietnamese)during our long war in SE Asia. I saw and did things that I have never divulged to this day. But never could I have been privy to diplomatic cables or anything else for which I could not demonstrate a "need to know."! I'd been thinking about that, too,-
about time someone brought it up!

Posted by: dab12647 | December 1, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

There are to many secrets anyway. I think it's great! If all the dirty laundry from all the governments was exposed the people would be a lot more involved in the practices of their politicians/government, really it just comes down to greedy controlling people trying to get a piece of the pie, even when it doesn't belong to them. Knowledge is power, so empower the people, instead of the few controlling elite. Remember, "the Truth will set you free" or was that just made up to control the masses? Perhaps its time to get rid of the corruption in the governments instead of going after the person who exposed it. Typical- the super rich get to kill and take advantage of everyone else, but as soon as they are exposed it's a national emergency-I'm sure they are shaking in their SS boots. I can hear them now "What are we going to do once the public finds out about the games we've been playing with the lives of others"- If every government in the world would try and make things better instead of just making their personal pocket books better the world would be a much nicer place. I say expose everything and let the people decide what to do about the corruption and lies. How can any human being make a rational educated decision when they don't have all the facts and truth-it may hurt the few who are in power right now, but it will help the whole world over all, and frankly I'm more concerned about the future of all children, we teach them not to lie, what hypocrites we are when we allow others to break the same rules we live by. Perhaps we can use this to our advantage and set a precedent for truth and transparency in all world governments- or are they doing so much evil that, that would be a bad thing to expose? And if they are doing so much evil that has to be kept secret, why are they doing it? Maybe 2012 really will be the end of the world as we know it, if the world as we know it now is built on a foundation of lie, deceit, control, greed, corruption, death, destruction, war, etc. I say good riddance. Bring on the new age of humanity with Truth, Love, Light, and Peace leading the way.

Posted by: kensmith0407 | December 1, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

What responsibility does Private Manning's Chain of Command bear in this debacle?
Surely it was someone's responsibility to
supervise him.

Posted by: vadata060440 | December 1, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Who says it was Manning anyway? I'm not being a conspiracy theorist, I'm just pointing out he hasn't yet been found guilty. For all we know, maybe he got the Iraq stuff, but the diplomatic cables came from another source.

Posted by: dkp01 | December 1, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

to Mr. King,

i suspect, but do not know, that the PFC (who allegedly got access to the diocuments) is a "classified documents destroyer".

30+ years ago, as a young EM, i was such a "designated person" & had "access" (if i had had either the intertest or time to read them) to vast quanties of highly classifed documents, including the NATO War Plans.
(being required to destroy the documents gives the "designated person" access.)

obviously, the "person responsible" did not supervise "the leaker" & deserves whatever punishment that a General Courts Martial may direct. =====> that makes at least two persons who deserve a long term at the DB.

sincerely, Retired MP46

Posted by: retiredMP46 | December 1, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

How about this for a plan -- require all federal employees and contractors with access to classified materials to be screened the same way airline passengers are -- virtual strip search or enhanced pat downs.

After all, the harm from on-going revelations such as these could easily be more dangerous and costly than any terror attempt on airlines (none of which have succeeded since 9/11) despite the absence of advanced scanners and groping fingers).

If the new airport screenings make sense for airline passengers, they also make sense for federal employees.

Posted by: wmcmyers | December 1, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Whatever happened to "Transparent Government", gentlemen? What issue does ANYONE have the right to hide from the american public in this day and age? Besides, we already know most of the "secrets" deemed classified or top secret. We aren't as ignorant as our government would hope. So, why doesn't everyone running the country quit with the war mongering and do the jobs they are hired for.

Posted by: devilboy42001 | December 2, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse

When I was in the service, in the late 1960's, a PFC would not have been granted ANY security clearance. How can a 20 year old PFC have such a clearance now?

Posted by: bedachtm | December 2, 2010 5:21 AM | Report abuse

Need to know? That's probably dead because of the "war on terror", as it was likely used too often to keep evidence away from other people (just like classification itself).

BTW, I found the "strip-search" suggestion amusing. That might work on someone trying to blow something up, as you need a decent amount of explosive for that, making it hard to conceal. Electronic data, however, can be carried in ridiculously small devices. The amount we would spend trying to search everyone would have the terrorists rolling in the aisles, watching us bankrupt ourselves.

Posted by: DavidSeibert | December 2, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Need to know? That's probably dead because of the "war on terror", as it was likely used too often to keep evidence away from other people (just like classification itself).

BTW, I found the "strip-search" suggestion amusing. That might work on someone trying to blow something up, as you need a decent amount of explosive for that, making it hard to conceal. Electronic data, however, can be carried in ridiculously small devices. The amount we would spend trying to search everyone would have the terrorists rolling in the aisles, watching us bankrupt ourselves.

Posted by: DavidSeibert | December 2, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

For Fascism to survive, it must silence the Truth.

Posted by: thomasmc1957 | December 2, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

For Fascism to survive, it must silence the truth.

Posted by: thomasmc1957 | December 2, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

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