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Your Privates

by on January 28, 2015

                                                            Your Privates

                                                        by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments. 

“To surrender what is most profound and mysterious in one’s being and personality at any price less than that of absolute reciprocity is profanation.” Henri Amiel (1821-1881) Journal, 26 December 1852.

“The public’s right to know.  Transparency.” The mantra and catchword of many journalists.  They sound intuitive.  Who could argue against them?  In fact, many.  And properly so.  Ranging from the institutional to the personal,  we can begin with the secrecy shrouding some governmental agencies and functions.

Information/materials classification, as well as security clearances, fall under three main headings: Confidential – exposure would result in damage to national security; Secret –  exposure would result in serious damage to national security; and, Top Secret – exposure would result in exceptionally grave damage to national security.  Of course, there are multiples of suffix add-ons to more clearly specify the nature of the materials and/or clearances; my security clearance was Top Secret – Cryptographic, meaning I was cleared for operational possession and use of NSA (National Security Agency) generated code books and “one time pads” and the activities for which they were used.  Intra agency classification adds a few more.  Information above Top Secret is labeled as either SCI (Sensitive Compartmentalized Information) or SAP (Special Access Program).  Access to information is granted on a Right and Need to Know basis,  a point further examined later.  For now, let’s be clear that even a President may admit to a right to know while denying a need to know.

Exit debriefing for Top Secret clearances includes the signing of a Non-Disclosure Agreement.  This includes the proviso that former employees intending to publish articles, books, or interviews first submit the intended materials and discussion matter to the review board within their former agency.

An example of this proviso in action is the excellent book, Secrecy and Democracy: The CIA in Transition by Admiral Stansfield Turner, former DCI – Director Central Intelligence 1977-1981.  In its entirety, this volume was (and may still be) required reading for all CIA officer trainees.  However, the edition released to the public, although still considered quite good, is short by over 100 pages. Admiral Turner strenuously fought the censorship from his own former agency.  But, he knew the issues he was fighting about and why their disclosure was not as endangering to national security as the censors believed.

This last point raises the differences between security professionals and journalists.  Chanting their mantra of the public’s right to know, journalists seem unaware of or hopefully silent on the need to know side of the equation, hoping the public is unaware of the logic underlying security classifications.  Too often their drive for publication appears more for the good of their own careers than for the good of the public.  And, as is so often the general case when ego and self interest are the drivers, it becomes remarkably easy to use this to advantage.  For example,  Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein seem never to have questioned why highly experienced former CIA operations officers and agents would have “burglarized” a Watergate hotel suite in such a way as to ensure their discovery.  Having thus failed Intelligence Analysis 101,  Woodward and Bernstein breathlessly followed “Deep Throat” down the Rabbit Hole carved for them by the real actors behind the process of deposing Richard M. Nixon.  And much of the American public fell in after them.  Ignorance (different from stupidity) can be understood in the public arena; stupidity, on the part of “investigative journalists” cannot be forgiven.

Even worse are the instances in which classified information is released and laws clearly broken for the mantra of the public’s right to know.  Valerie Plame, a career CIA Clandestine Service officer of long standing, was outed by a “journalist”, Robert Novak of the Washington Post.  Using information that was traced back to the Bush Administration, specifically Lewis Libby, an assistant to Dick Cheney, he executed a clear retaliation against Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, whose rebuttal of claims that Saddam Hussein was seeking “yellow cake” material for nuclear weapons undermined the web of Administration lies that brought on the murderous war against Iraq.  That Plame’s distinguished career was brought to an end was sad, indeed criminal.  That the disclosure of Plame’s role in international negotiations put at risk countless foreign officials who met with her,  and the families of these officials is almost beyond words. Yet, this “journalist” did this, and experienced no consequences for his actions.  So, was this prize winning journalist simply ignorant?  Willfully stupid?  Or interested in serving his masters despite the potential cost to others and their families?  You decide.

That journalists are used to disseminate disinformation or information designed for an effect should be no surprise.  Intelligence agencies around the globe either wholly own or subsidize media outlets, even where the journalists themselves do not know they are being used.  Most journalists are nowhere near as bright as they would have you think. 

But what about right and need to know on a more personal level? How can that be misused? And what are the potential consequences?

The institution of marriage is often portrayed as a seamless bonding of two “souls” and on and on.  For further clarification and/or a refresher, see the greeting card section in your local grocery store.  There you will find endless variations of verses devised by in-patients on psychotropic drugs.  Kind of a work-release program.

Implied, if not directly stated in all this soul bonding stuff is the ultimate sharing of secrets (read: the stripping away of privacy).  What happens when someone else, perhaps a developing romantic partner, presumes you have secrets to share?  And what are those presumptions based on?

One of the more disgusting examples of how presumptions are implanted early in young minds comes from the sick,  perverse, and outright dishonest process “family values” proponents call sex education.  A meme still in use in “values approved” programs is: “When you have sex with someone you are having sex with everyone they have had sex with”.  Despite the fact that any 6th grader with an I.Q. over the ambient temperature could see this as patently false and illogical, the statement gained traction widely.   

And so, the beginnings of romantic relationships often include the question, “How many sex partners have you had?”  This is like asking a combat veteran, “How many bullets missed you?” The more appropriate question, if it is to be asked at all, is, “What is your STD status?”

While the ideal of an intimate relationship is honesty, the reality is that in some circumstances the potential partner must accept a limit to the information available.  This is not to say dishonesty; it is only to say that personal privacy is a domain willingly shared, not one that is surrendered under force.   

How then does an intelligence officer handle marriage?  First, contrary to popular media, an intelligence officer is not an “agent” (FBI uses Special Agent designations); an agent is a tool appropriate to a job.  When you want to drive a nail you choose a hammer – the agent.  When the job is done, so is the agent.  And, career service officers usually do not go around shooting each other.  A dead intelligence officer is of no use to anyone. An agent, especially if a foreign national spying on his own country, is viewed by everyone – despite the agent’s motives, as a traitor.  He or she, as well as the family, is fair game.  If lost, it’s perhaps sad but it’s time to move on.  Officers are at risk when the circumstances require them to deal directly with non-professional, ad hoc groups.  These non-professionals fail to realize that killing an officer will bring the wrath of the Valkyries upon them – or they don’t care.  It happens.

In the same way, professional officers do not target the families of hostile officers.  The vetting of spouses, and children over a certain age is more for discovery of traits or behaviors that might make the officer vulnerable to extortion or even self willed compromise.  Thus, the risk to families is not much more than the risk to any family in which a spouse travels a great deal.

Several officers have pursued (and are pursuing) career paths in federal agencies,  business,  or academia ostensibly unrelated to their actual employment.  Not a few spouses have been informed, after the officer’s retirement or natural death, of the actual career to which they were dedicated.  Were the officers dishonest, or were they a bit zealous in their interpretation of “the right and the need to know”?  The reader can decide.

Each of us, no matter the career path – or no career path, has areas in life that he wishes to keep private.  This is not to say there is no pain or anxiety in doing so.  Indeed, it can be torturous.  But, is it appropriate to press a spouse to explain every “bad dream”, every “over reaction” to being startled?  Conversely, is it right to unload these private anxieties, regrets, and pains on a spouse?

A popular meme floating about in recent years is TMI – Too Much Information.  Want to hear about my latest medical issues?  Got a few hours?  It might be said that keeping secrets, especially when there is nothing to be done about them, is a way of respecting another person’s privacy – the privacy of their own inner peace.  There’s no undoing it when a spouse says, “I wish you hadn’t told me that.”









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  1. Well, you certainly gave us plenty of lines to read between this time. From the beginning, I always thought I understood you more from what was left out of the conversation than what was actually spoken. The more I get to know about you, the more I realize how true that was. It has been, to put it mildly, an interesting friendship.

    You made many good points here; ones I had thought about before, and some I had not. Certainly, the “need to know” has played an important part of my life. I’m pretty much an open book, but there are certain things I prefer to keep to myself. Knowing you, I would imagine you feel the same.

    I know (intuitively) more about your health than makes me happy. I will continue to hope that you stick around for as long as possible. Rose


  2. Thank you, Rose. In the immortal words of Sgt. Schultz (Hogan’s Heroes), “I see NOTTINGK, I hear NOTTINGK, I know NOTTINGK!”

    Life is fun. I’m interested in seeing where it leads. I hope you are well. Marco


  3. Thank you for another thought provoking post. I have a couple of relatives in their mid-20s who work for the NSA. I would have thought those doing this kind of work would be the creme de la creme of security. They are pretty much like regular 20 + year olds. They go to work, come home, drink and play video games till they pass out. And it’s not just my relatives. They have a huge group of friends from work and this is what they all do. They make an obscene amount of money and when there is a terrorist alert they get double pay. If this is the line of defense between us and the terrorist, we are in a lot of trouble.


    • Thank you, Mary. I’m tempted to offer some views on “desk officers”, views that would in some cases be unpleasant and certainly contrary to the public image. Suffice it to say I agree with your concerns and am glad you have the background to justify them. As you know, many field operations officers have diplomatic cover. Thus, the job stress is more about success or failure. And, as you also know, NOCs, or non-official cover officers in the guise of business men or academic researchers are at brutal risk and there is no denying that it takes a toll on relationships and, often on the officer himself/herself. There’s a scream deep down inside that must be held down, no matter the seeming willingness of a trusted other to hear it out.


  4. Mary, As you know, NSA is primarily chartered with SIGINT – signals intelligence. Its mandate is increasingly being shared by NRO and other developing agencies. Still, sigint, hugely invaluable, means a typical workday is largely quite tedious. Certainly not the glamor depicted in media. I can well understand, though not condone, the actions of some members of the sigint community.

    In the Human Reliability Program, in which I was involved many years ago, excessive drinking was one of the indicators to be discovered and acted upon – although it is pervasive in many parts of the intelligence community.


  5. Your stories are always so gripping to me , Marco, because you take me to places I` ve never known and show me parts of the world that have not been part of my life.
    I have no deep knowledge (or had not untill now 🙂 ) of all these agencies you mention above, so there is not much that I can say except that I truly rejoice in the broadening of my horizons.

    One thing though really hit a chord and has me agreeing with you most completely. The journalists… “Too often their drive for publication appears more for the good of their own careers than for the good of the public.” For sure , and most unfortunately so ! And it is so easy to ruin lives with just a few misconstrued words.


    • Thank you, FOAL. I’ve personally known only two journalists I considered to have integrity. There are a few others I read and consider honest and thoughtful. Unfortunately, the group as a whole has brought upon itself a need to prove itself first. The abuses have been too widespread for too long.


  6. Dana permalink

    Marco, I am so glad you have continued to write, because you simply have so many interesting things to share!

    The same can be applied to parents who should try to maintain a “need to know” basis with young children. Why would any financially struggling parent tell a child “We have just eleven cents left to our name!” This is just one example, but there are certain things much better left unsaid.


    • Thank you, Dana. And, I’m glad you continue to contribute. You are entirely correct. Responsibility also means caring for the mental and emotional states of others, and you cite an excellent example. Thank you.


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