Retroactive Classification: The Government’s Favorite Tool for Silencing Whistleblowers

First: note the byline. Yes, I have not posted in almost a year, but you just might be seeing more of me again.

One of my favorite posts from back in the days when I posted regularly was the one on retroactive classification. The really fun part was the statement from J. William Leonard that retroactive classification is a “metaphysical impossibility”:

Today, Marcy included me in an email conversation with J. William Leonard, who previously served as the Director of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office and before that as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security and Information Operations. The question posed to Mr. Leonard was whether the retroactive classification of the report was properly carried out. Leonard’s response noted that since “the purpose of classification is to preclude unauthorized disclosure”, that is “a metaphysical impossibility for information whose disclosure was authorized in the first place.”

So imagine my delight when I went to the copy of the declassified whistleblower complaint and encountered this on only the second page:

On first glance though, it might be easy to say these two situations are different. In the case of my previous post, we were talking about a document that had already been published with an “unclassified” marking and was even mentioned in the press. Here, we are talking about a report that is being submitted to the Intelligence Community Inspector General and would, at least at the beginning of the process, be closely held. But the complaint, if found credible, was destined for dissemination to Congressional committees, and so would eventually be fairly widely seen. The whistleblower rightly was working to protect against someone realizing just how embarrassing the report is to the President and our government and deciding that the report should be buried rather than widely shared.

The comparisons, though, go much deeper. My earlier post goes on to discuss the use of retroactive classification in the cases of Sybel Edmonds, Thomas Drake, Franz Gayle and Robert MacLean. What do these people have in common? They were all whistleblowers. And as soon as the government realized just how embarrassed they would be when the truth came out, they tried their best to shove it back under a rock.

It is fortunate for us that this whistleblower has such a deep understanding of the classification process. Even better, this person appears to have a thorough understanding of the history of whistleblowers and what happens to the information they aim to disclose. The bit early in the report on classification does a good job of providing justification for the body of the report to be unclassified. Perhaps the note about retroactive classification is an attempt to leave a trail once it is attempted.

Remarkably, though, that is not the most important instance of retroactive classification in the report. The part of this report that may well have the most lasting historical impact is this (in what, ironically, was originally classified and now declassified):

So, “White House officials” realized just how embarrassing the call’s full transcript would be. We had learned earlier in the report that the White House Situation Room regularly produces a “word for word” transcript of calls and puts it on a computer system accessed by people at the Cabinet level. Further, the whistleblower informs us that this time, it was “White House lawyers” who directed that the transcript be removed from this system and moved to the more secure system. Coupled with the note from the appendix, we see that Trump’s White House has decided that retroactively classifying embarrassing information is their best bet for burying information to prevent it being spread by whistleblowers. We are so fortunate that this whistleblower fully understands that process and has even documented it for us, essentially in real time.

Time will tell, but it seems to me that by telling us there are more transcripts buried on the secure computer system, the whistleblower has provided a roadmap to information that may prove even more catastrophic for the Trump Administration than the disclosure of the attempt to get Ukraine to smear Joe and Hunter Biden.

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104 replies
      • Vicks says:

        Or a troll on Trump
        Putin can’t be pleased the US is shifting from the gop platform Manafort’s influence was able to draw up (no weapons and cut backs of support) to the current situation that has put Russia’s aggression on display

  1. AndrewOH says:

    SOOOO… When are we going to get to see TRUMP’S Email Server? Oh the irony.

    Somehow I don’t think this was a one off either. Muller missed the boat by not investigating THE thing that motivates Trump; greed. The House only need to look at those locations where Trump has interests to likely see even more of this behavior. Conjecture, yes, but is that really a stretch?

    • P J Evans says:

      Don’t forget that Mueller wasn’t authorized to look at everything. He could see threads going everywhere, but couldn’t legally follow them.

  2. BobCon says:

    And not just dumped in a classified bin, these have been put into a codeword level system. That’s incredibly compartmentalized even for people with top level clearances.

  3. P J Evans says:

    Via dKos:

    Reports Vanity Fair, ”In addition to several attendees at the meeting … which included several congressmen firmly in MAGA world, such as Jim Jordan, Devin Nunes, John Ratcliffe, Matt Gaetz, and Mark Meadows—Attorney General William Barr thought releasing the transcript would be for the best.”

    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/09/donald-trump-ukraine-call-transcript-release

    Barr is smart (more or less) but the congresscritters they name aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer. (Mark Sumner, at dKos, calls them “yes, yes, yes! men”.)

      • Molly Pitcher says:

        bmaz, TOTALLY OT, Looking forward to seeing you at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley tonight ?

        Go Bears !!

        It is not going to last, but for the moment we are 15th in the Nation !!

        • bmaz says:

          I wasn’t there, but watched. It didn’t last! I am pretty stunned by how well the Devils played. If they had played like that at home last weekend against Colorado, they would be 5-0. ASU is a young team with a true freshman at QB, so they will be up and down I guess. Last night was an up night. Best of luck to the Bears the rest of the way though!

          • Molly Pitcher says:

            Well, it was nice while it lasted. Now we get to go into Eugene without a Qtrback. Gonna be a loooong game.

    • David Holden says:

      Please, please, please!!–whenever quoting anything from anyone in anty type of publication, twitter, etc, please point out that what was released was not a “transcript” but a summary of a description of a phone call that was shortened and edited by the White House before its public release.
      Indeed the best way to do this is to quote the statement at the beginning and at the end of the document that declares it is NOT a “transcript”.
      A footnote reminding all that Nixon tried the same gambit with regard to the White House tapes during Watergate would also be useful to make this point.
      Regards.

      • Thebuzzardman says:

        Barr thought it was a good idea to release it. Hmm.

        I’m sorry, but I can’t think of any motivation of Barr’s that is positive. Maybe he had this piece released, reluctantly, so other more damaging pieces could stay contained, probably behind an invoked “executive privilege”?

        Basically damage control, and maybe even Barr sees it as leading to a losing situation, but a “hail Mary pass”. Figured I’d use a football reference, since the game was mentioned.

      • Peterr says:

        The document itself says in a footnote on page one “CAUTION: A Memorandum of a Telephone Conversation (TELCON) is not a verbatim transcript of a discussion. The text in this document records the notes and recollections of Situation Room Duty Officers and NSC policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form as the conversation takes place. . .”

  4. bittersweet says:

    So…Does anyone know what prevents “White House Lawyers” from just erasing all the politically sensitive information from that code word level server? Or burying the server itself somehow/somewhere? This is a technical computer and policy question.

    • Terry Salad says:

      Such servers no doubt keep a log of who goes in and out. Thus, while it may be possible to scrub them of incriminating info, there would be a record of who did it. Still, they could get some patsy – Nixon had Rosemary Woods.

      • BobCon says:

        The penalties for mishandling that kind of record are huge — at a minimum, someone may lose their clearance which can have a big impact on future earnings.

        Which means that the order to delete isn’t likely to be followed without documentation, and someone at the top isn’t likely to authorize anything that points back to him.

        Plus there are inevitably backups that need to be deleted, and those may be in the control of a different admin and needs separate authorization….

        I suspect you’d end up with situations like in the Mueller report where Trump wanted someone fired and people stalled and hoped he forgot. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a patsy, but it’s harder than getting Rosemary Woods to pretend that she sat in a contorted position to erase the recording.

        • dude says:

          I thought the Prez delegated classification/declassification authority to Barr several weeks back. Was that just for his investigation into the Deep State origins of the Mueller report, or everything?

    • Spiny says:

      I believe both the inspector general and Adam Schiff have issued orders to retain all records relating to the matter. But enforcing the rule of law on classified material in total control of the White House will no doubt be problematic. On the other hand, the rats will inevitably turn on one another, so there is probably a good chance that at least one or more of them will start squealing if someone starts deleting…

        • Peterr says:

          I believe they belong to the ODNI, bureaucratically speaking.

          Of course, as Bill Barr will tell you, the ODNI runs them on behalf of the executive branch, and the president can do whatever he wants with the executive branch as the Unitary Executive.

  5. Crack of Don says:

    I can’t help but suspect that the unusual silence from most of our Repubs including Lindsey Graham’s half-hearted and half-baked diss of the impeachment inquiry is a sign that the Orange One is in for his inevitable fall. Funny too how his family has been radio silent these past weeks. Here’s to hope.

    • viget says:

      I think the turtle’s silence is the most telling.

      Why do I feel like somehow he’s going to survive all this? Honestly, as the main agent of the Kremlin, he’s the one that really needs to go.

      • P J Evans says:

        He’s trying to get Collins re-elected in Maine – that’s telling. She talks “moderate” but votes party-line except when it doesn’t matter, and she’s got strong opposition this time.

      • Molly Pitcher says:

        The turtle is actually a cockroach and will be here after the nuclear winter if he isn’t removed from office the next time around. Pass the Raid

        • P J Evans says:

          I wonder if sprinkling the floor and carpets in his office with both boric acid and diatomaceous earth would work.

  6. Vicks says:

    They are already spinning that because of the leaks of the calls between DJT and the leaders of Mexico and Australia, this excessive level of security for transcripts of calls with foreign leaders is a common occurrence.
    I would think that if true, that will be easy enough to establish.

    • P J Evans says:

      I understand the usual procedure is that the two countries coordinate what they can release to the public. What part of that does this WH staff not get, and what part of “you work for the entire country” are they missing?

      • rip says:

        The only way this coordination works is if one of the partners really is in control and the other one follow along.

        Given dump and putin, which one do we think is really in control?

      • Vicks says:

        lol “coordinate what they release to the public” may look entirely different depending on the country.
        Actually my point was they are spinning it to look like it became standard procedure to put calls into this excessive level of security after a couple of leaks that embarrassment Trump so that this particular call does not stand out

        • Yohei72 says:

          “they are spinning it to look like it became standard procedure to put calls into this excessive level of security after a couple of leaks that embarrassment Trump so that this particular call does not stand out”

          But misclassifying information for personal/political reasons is a crime, isn’t it? Even if this excuse were true, it’s, well, no excuse.

    • Terry Salad says:

      I do think that Republicans will argue the “locking down” of transcripts on classified servers was meant to end the annoying leaks. But, that will become more and more difficult. The Ukraine call, as Trump himself describe it, was “perfect.” Nothing discussed that would require classification, except those bits where Trump commits a crime. You cannot classify material just to protect (cover up) such wrongdoing. The WB complaint suggests there are other such “problematic” calls. Lord only knows what Trump said there, but I think we’ll find out.

  7. SaltinWound says:

    Are there reports the transcript was ever classified? I have not seen anyone say that it was. I believe it might have been hidden in a secure system with classified documents but never technically classified. I don’t recall Acting DNI even mentioning classification, just potential claims of executive privilege.

    • P J Evans says:

      It *shouldn’t* be classified – at least, not at that level. The question is, how much else was put there to hide it?

        • Robert says:

          Normally, each paragraph in a classified document will be assigned a classification level and this will be indicated at the beginning of the paragraph. There will be an overall classification level corresponding to the highest level of classification shown within the document. The criteria used to assign classification levels are based on the damage to the national interest that would result from the disclosure of the referenced information.

          So, at least in principle, one can’t just declare a document to be classified at some arbitrary level.

          If a sensitive and important topic, such as plans for a military operation, were being discussed, this could qualify for a high classification level. However, nothing we have seen would properly justify such treatment.

      • SaltinWound says:

        Thank you, I saw this late and retract my comments about suspecting the transcript was not actually classified.

  8. Ed Walker says:

    Are you saying that moving the actual phone transcript into the covert ops computer is a retroactive classification? It seems to me that the actual transcript might be partially classified at one level, and parts are not classified so they can be made public. Then moving the whole thing into the covert compurter (for want of a better term) constitutes raising the classification level. Is that about right?

    • SaltinWound says:

      I am saying moving the transcript does not constitute retroactive classication. I’m saying no one has reported that the transcript was ever classified, but reporters seem to be referring to it as if it was, and I thought you were suggesting it had been retroactively classified when it was hidden with classified documents. My hunch is the transcript was never classified, it was simply hidden.

    • Jim White says:

      My take is that the original computer the transcript was on constitute a sort of publication, since Cabinet level folks had access and information is known to leak out from these sorts of positions. By moving it to the ultra secure location after the fact, it feels like a retroactive classification to me. At the very least, the move is a massive increase of classification level.

      • SaltinWound says:

        There was an increase in security and in the difficulty of accessing the transcript. Isn’t classification a technical and/or legal term though? Do we not care about the distinction between retroactive classification and simply making the documents harder to access?

        • Robert says:

          First, note that it is illegal to classify a document to hide embarrassing or criminal information.

          Classifying the transcript as Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) was clearly meant to hide it – the number of people who have access is vastly reduced (a very large majority of the people who have a clearance would be cleared to the Secret level only) and even finding out the fact of its existence or location becomes problematic. Even with a suitable clearance, access would likely depend on a case-by case approval process and someone would have to arrange for and supervise your access to view a paper copy of the document or perhaps an electronic one.

          Additional information on SCI can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensitive_Compartmented_Information

          From the viewpoint of security, even a document classified at the Secret level must be treated carefully. For example, a printed copy would likely be numbered (and therefore identifiable) and, at least in principle, the identity of anyone in possession of such a copy would be tracked. When not actually in use, the document would have to be stored in approved containers at a physically secure site. Furthermore, you are forbidden from taking it home to read it. If it is on a network, there would likely be precautions to prevent users from making copies on recordable media. Even just losing such a document could require an investigation and would constitute grounds for losing one’s security clearance. Needless to say, leaking such a document would definitely be considered a serious offence.

          It follows that classifying the type of information in question as SCI shouldn’t be necessary under any normal circumstances and would make it inaccessible to people who might reasonably need it to do their jobs.

          • P J Evans says:

            People who need to take docs like that home for their work have to have a file that locks and is labelled correctly. (The files I’ve seen are steel cabinets, with padlocks on a steel rod through the drawer pulls.)

          • bmaz says:

            Robert: Let’s be careful with the “illegal” language. Is it contrary to protocols, such as EO 13-526? Arguably yes and other dub regulations. Is that per se illegal, that is a lot better question, and I would not draw that conclusion. Not yet anyway.

            • Robert says:

              I’ve possibly overstepped in my use of “illegal” in that I can’t definitively state the consequences beyond the potential loss of clearance status – something not to be taken lightly by someone whose job depends on it. I do have a recollection of one individual who was summarily fired for keeping illegal material in his filing cabinet assigned for classified material. There is obviously an awareness that the widespread use of the classification system to hide evidence of criminal activity or incompetence would severely harm the national interest.

              [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use a more differentiated username when you comment next as we have several community members named “Robert”. Thanks. /~Rayne]

          • Anne says:

            As a junior in high school, I worked at a place where I needed a secret clearance. I was a typist (yeah, I’m that old, there weren’t any computers).

            There were secret filing cabinets with appropriate locks. Just because you put a document in the secret filing cabinet didn’t make it secret. You could stash your grocery list in it. You’d need a secret clearance to get it out. But it was still unclassified.

            • SaltinWound says:

              That’s what I believe we will learn happened here. Transcripts were secured but went through no classification process.

      • Rayne says:

        Shit. This is a bigger fur ball than I first thought. Whoever put conversation transcripts in the ‘code-word classified system’ were technically part of a Controlled Access Program — the DNI’s equivalent of DOD’s Special Access Program. The only people who would know about it would have created the program and/or been read into the program.

        There could have been an CAP assigned to each sensitive conversation, too. I hope not — what an administrative nightmare.

        This is why it was an Intelligence Community issue; there were a bunch of CAP members who weren’t really IC members and probably weren’t qualified (i.e., didn’t have periodic mandatory polygraph tests, appropriate security clearance, so on).

        This is how they kept this stuff from Mueller — they didn’t breach the CAP, Mueller and the rest of the SCO weren’t read into the CAP so they couldn’t be told about it.

        McMaster wasn’t necessarily lying about the May 2017 with Lavrov+Kislyak if there was an CAP set up after the fact into which this material was placed in the secure system. He would have been treating this according to protocol for a covert program.

        And the only people who’d have access — a password for the or each SCI — are the people read in and they may not include Trump.

        The whistleblower can tell us that there is one or more CAPs for SCI, but unless they were read into all of them they can’t really tell us any more details. They might be able to tell the Gang of Eight some more in closed session, but they still may not be able to reveal enough to get information out of the CAPs.

        And I don’t know how it’d be forced out of any member of the CAP. This is the part an expert on CAPs would have to disclose. Heavens help us if the ultimate authority to declassify any CAP is Trump. I am so curious about Dan Coats’ and Sue Gordon’s role in this and the timing of their exit.

        Info on CAPs at FAS.org – look for the link to a PDF.

        • Rayne says:

          If the challenge is that sensitive conversations have been protected in a CAP, this could explain in part why part of the complaint is still classified.


          If CAPs have been used to hide conversations, it could explain what The Federalist is het up about here:

          https://thefederalist.com/2019/09/27/intel-community-secretly-gutted-requirement-of-first-hand-whistleblower-knowledge/

          Somebody understood that House investigators might have difficulty getting someone who is read into a program to talk directly about the program and that a person at a remove about a CAP might have to disclose its existence or the materials in it — so they changed the rules to aid disclosure. Rules can be changed after this mess is fixed.

          This is a fucking nightmare and the right-wing douchebros are going to go off about lack of evidence when that was the entire fucking point — their team hid evidence.

            • Rayne says:

              He’s not given the context of this situation much thought whatsoever. If I can imagine the inherent problems with using this ‘code-word classified system’, surely Davis could do the same but no.

              What bad faith.

          • Eureka says:

            This:

            Somebody understood that House investigators might have difficulty getting someone who is read into a program to talk directly about the program and that a person at a remove about a CAP might have to disclose its existence or the materials in it — so they changed the rules to aid disclosure. Rules can be changed after this mess is fixed.

            reminded me of Obama cracking the barn doors at NSA before he left…also makes me want to re-read about his 2011 changes…

        • Jim White says:

          Yes. I’ve been puzzling a lot since this came out about how investigators can get hold of everything that’s been buried this way. We almost have to sink into a Rumsfeld-esque mindset: we can identify known unknowns by making a list of phone calls that have been reported in the press and looking to see if the Situation Room transcripts are on the normal server. That will allow presumably some conversations and dates to be flagged so that they can look for a CAP designed for that call. The problem, of course, is that not all calls wind up making news, so there is a whole universe of unknown unknowns–calls which got their transcripts put into oblivion from the start. Of course, those are likely to be the most damning of all.

          And I agree, as you say, that is also the source of a lot of the anger from the IC over this aspect of what Trump’s handlers did. They foresee a lot of extra poking into a system that normally doesn’t get poked much–and for good reason.

          • Rayne says:

            Been thinking more about a CAP (or more than one); the more I think about it, the more I think they didn’t use a full-blown CAP because these people are fundamentally lazy and undisciplined and would have required more people to actually do the work required. This is an additional layer of risk they would have wanted to avoid.

            The approach has to be close to but not exactly a CAP. It would have a level of secrecy — I don’t know that I can call it classification per se — which would require Fight Club-like rules, which gets us to the change allowing hearsay to permit someone outside this circle to talk about the circle but not the specifics within it, avoiding a breach of the materials but not the identification of the circle’s participants.

            We really need to consult someone who’s an expert on DNI systems at this point, not just DOD systems.

            • orionATL says:

              start with “the public has a right to know” and “hiding misconduct/potential illegality behind a classification system is an abuse of the purpose of the system” and reason from there. it makes the job easier.

            • pdaly says:

              Do CAPs exist for conversations held outside the WH?
              For example, how does a conversation that takes place at a golf course get recorded?

              If they’re not treated the same way, then perhaps we have many fewer dates to account for possible CAPs, as Trump rarely seems to be at the WH.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      An hour later, I understand, the NYT listed it as breaking news, but without crediting the student newspaper that scooped them.

      Baquet’s people do that all the time. Another reason to cancel your subscription in protest. (You can re-up at any time, if you find nothing better.)

      • bmaz says:

        Actually, I was wrong about the State Press, they did “break” it. And now I know how. Volker’s day job is with the McCain Center, which is part of ASU. He gave ASU President Michael Crow a heads up (and I will bet dollars to donuts Crow had told Volker to pick Trump or ASU, and Volker took the better long term gig), and Crow gave the scoop to the State Press, which is run by the Cronkite School of Journalism. It is truly a superb school. May not quite yet be equal to Medil or Columbia, but they are closing in very fast.

    • Vicks says:

      I’m setting my alerts for “State Department Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl” who got his own bullet point on the report, (and a subpoena)
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulrich_Brechbuhl#cite_note-6
      “He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1986.[3] He was a classmate of Pompeo’s at West Point, and helped Pompeo found Thayer Aerospace.”
      Brechbuhl is identified in a 2019 whistleblower complaint as someone who listened in on President Donald Trump’s July 25, 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.[5][6] This was not standard protocol, as “a former White House official said it was extremely unusual for a State Department official to be on what was supposed to be a standard congratulatory call from the president to another world leader”.[7]
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counselor_of_the_United_States_Department_of_State
      The Counselor of the United States Department of State is a position within the United States Department of State that serves the Secretary of State as a special advisor and consultant on major problems of foreign policy and who provides guidance to the appropriate bureaus with respect to such matters. The Counselor conducts special international negotiations and consultations, and also undertakes special assignments from time to time, as directed by the Secretary.[1] Currently, the Counselor holds under law a rank equivalent to that of Under Secretary of State.[2] Unlike the other Under Secretaries of State, the Counselor currently does not require Senate confirmation.[3]

  9. Peterr says:

    At times, “retroactive classification” is an appropriate correction to an initial misclassification of information. In that respect, it’s appropriate to try to correct the mistake. Of course, if the information has been published by a dozen websites already you’re looking at the barn door long after the horse is gone.

    That said, the whistleblower is absolutely right about saying that if someone is going to reclassify information, they owe it to the original classifiers to (a) notify them that this has been done, and (b) explain why they did it.

    With respect to this MEMCON, as Michael McFaul said, “Please note, the original clarification of Trump-Zelensky transcript/MemCon was SECRET, not even TOP SECRET. And then someone kicked it up an even higher notch to compartmentalized intelligence.” This suggests that this wasn’t about correcting an error in the appropriate level of classification but about concealing politically problematic information.

    • Rayne says:

      Your last sentence nails it. The content isn’t classified. The ‘container’ into which they put it is classified, and this still isn’t quite accurate.

      It’s a ‘locked box’ designed for materials with the highest classifications but they’re stuffing it with their fuck-ups. And this special ‘locked box’ exists under rules which don’t allow just anyone to talk about the ‘locked box’.

      The entire mess is yet another box, Pandora’s box — once we open this we’re going to have to completely revamp the permissions and access system to prevent this from happening again.

      • Jim White says:

        Yes to both of you. This feels like some strange amalgam of the hiding the Ark of the Covenant in the large government document warehouse at the end of Raiders mixed with a de-facto classification by depositing the info into a receptacle that only the a very select few have a chance of access. In fact, I’m thinking that there may be almost no way for anyone to find these things. Would the administrator have some sort of list that allows something in a tag on a file to associate it with the people with proper clearance to access it? Did they bury these things with realistic-looking tags that are in fact gibberish and don’t associate to any program or person who can retrieve it? I really think they were just looking to make these things go away permanently.

        And for SaltinWound, I accept your point that we don’t have evidence these materials were formally classified. But by essentially attaching the materials to things that are classified at the highest level, as Peterr points out, they have accomplished the equivalent.

        • Eureka says:

          Greetings, I have crossed questions between pages. It was at this point in the conversation that I was about to ask what you all made of a particular CNN snippet I’d quoted on Rayne’s prior post. I ended up posting it (a plate of rapidly cooling scrambled eggs) back over there after she’d added to the relevant thread:

          https://www.emptywheel.net/2019/09/27/hidden-trump-admitted-2016-russian-interference/#comment-807842

          The text in question from CNN fyi:

          A former administration official said that despite the code word protection, you didn’t necessarily need a special clearance to view the records and there was a process for officials to access the calls they wanted.

          I’ll add here the general comment to Jim of thanks for the post with history and insight into the whistleblower’s calculations, it was very helpful.

          • Jim White says:

            Thanks. That is indeed encouraging if there is a process for accessing the material. That seems to be good news for those cases where we can identify particular conversations to ask for. I still worry, though, about any that were stashed in there for conversations which may have occurred without there being any report it took place. In other words, I hope the process extends to being able to ask for anything that has been stashed and doesn’t properly belong there.

            • Eureka says:

              Heh, well the idea that they are running some kind of infosec chop shop came to mind as well. So even if you know to look for a certain make and model, will it have all the parts? If not, where did they go?

  10. Smarterthanyou says:

    Not only is it a metaphysical impossibility by its own definition, it’s a ludicrous impossibility based on the NSA’s own manuals. EVERYTHING is being collected and has been for over 10 years at a minimum. Who owned the Telecom companies before they became the likes of S.P.R.I.N.T ( What does SPRINT stand for)? Who developed this technology after owning and inventing the entire telecommunications and internet industry? Oh, was it the Military? This is all a giant charade, believing any of it is almost laughable. If there was ANY justice, all the commander and chief would have to do is ask for the recordings of whatever he wanted. This goes for ANY investigation that has transpired over the last 5 years and beyond. THEY HAVE ALL OF THE INFORMATION, they created the ENTIRE industry, and if accountability and a real difference between these two fake parties existed, that’s ALL it would take. PERIOD.

    • Rayne says:

      While this may be true to a degree, this post was about White House communications not the average Joe SixPack’s communications. You’re going to need to bring more to this discussion than “THEY HAVE ALL OF THE INFORMATION” in shouty caps.

  11. posaune says:

    Thank you for this post, Jim. Good to see you back here.
    oh, (and hope this is ok, bmaz), but that grand-baby is one cute little boy! adorable!

  12. bmaz says:

    Should have added this yesterday, but “whistleblower” is a WAY overused and misapplied term. I said this a couple of days ago on some thread or another, but, legally, there is no such thing at common law, a whistleblower can only truly exist under narrow statutes.

    The rest are leakers, even if they are often admirable ones. Manning was not technically a whistleblower, neither was Snowden. Very few truly are. In this case, I would be very hesitant to use the term with White House employees, as they are covered by neither the WPA nor, critically here, the ICWPA. Here from the Brennan Center is a great summary of these acts and the holes in them. And that is why there are so few true “whistleblowers”.

    • OldTulsaDude says:

      From the Brennan Center link: “The WPA does not apply…. to anyone in the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, or any other executive body that conducts primarily foreign intelligence or counter-intelligence activities.”

      Does this mean the NYT was wrong about the WB being CIA or is the WB term being used inaccurately?

      • bmaz says:

        No, I don’t think so, because would be covered by the ICWPA. There are more than a few people, including in the White House, who know exactly who it is I think. And probably have for a bit.

  13. Tom says:

    This story reminds me of the report from POLITICO on June 10, 2018 and other outlets around that time about Trump’s habit of ripping up letters and other documents and throwing them in the trash. Highly paid and experienced staff would then have to root through waste baskets and scotch tape the papers back together for filing.

  14. orionATL says:

    comes now a ghost from the past, to remind us of persistent republican presidential deceit on national security issues and misuse of classification of national security issues: **

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/27/us/joseph-wilson-dead.html?

    ** no this is NOT a partisan comment, except that a loyal republican would never make the such a statement. it is a statement of historical fact and includes presidents nixon, reagan, ghw bush, and trump.

    the use of ” partisan” to discredit accurate criticism is a bit of labeling propaganda common in the trump administration and thoughtlessly validated by contemporary media.

    despite many column inches of media blather to that effect, we are not experiencing ununusual partisanship by historical standards. things are not as personally bitter as between jefferson and john adams and supporters, nor are they at the temperature of the andrew johnson vs abolitionist quarrel. passion born of loyalty is a vital part of politics, but so is analytical and historical criticism. in fact, except for deceit and fulminations of fox news, breitbart and the swamp of right wing media propaganda operations, we are a rather politically sedate nation.

    • PeteT says:

      While Trump-s reference to (in my words) the summary execution of spies in the good ole MAGA days is pretty beyond the pale. I, with much tongue in cheek, wonder about the days of Burr-Hamilton duels making a comeback. Most of these yahoos would miss at 20 paces with AR-15s anyway.

      BTW – this is just sarcasm and not a call to violence.

      And the note my commemorative use of the hyphen.

        • orionATL says:

          o.k. 😣

          oh how i hate virtual keyboards. i could design a better one myself. #1. allow user to set space between keys in a row and between the space bar at the bottom and the letter key row above it.

          thanks.

      • Jim White says:

        Heh. In my initial thinking about this post, I may or may not have planned to end with reference to those remarks and request to Trump that he take a look at the various theories about what happened to a certain President in the 60’s who ran afoul of the intelligence community.

  15. dude says:

    This from WAPO:

    “As many as 130 officials have been contacted in recent weeks by State Department investigators — a list that includes senior officials who reported directly to Clinton as well as others in lower-level jobs whose emails were at some point relayed to her inbox, said current and former State Department officials,” the paper noted. “Those targeted were notified that emails they sent years ago have been retroactively classified and now constitute potential security violations, according to letters reviewed by The Washington Post.”State Department investigators began contacting the former officials about 18 months ago, after President Trump’s election, and then seemed to drop the effort before picking it up in August, officials said.”

  16. sls642 says:

    This discussion is rather mind numbing. I don’t see how someone could be subject to any penalty for taking action that was made illegal after the fact. And the federal laws for record classification, record retention, whistleblowers, all need significant changes from Congress.

    The WB’s situation is this case makes the obvious point that it’s a law that has problems. But for Trump’s bad advice from whomever, he would still be stonewalling Congress. Same with the fight over virtually everything/everyone in the Executive branch.

    This “President is King” business has to stop and it starts with Congress. It is not a Democrat or Republican issue but rather addresses the absurd positions that President’s have been allowed to assert at lhe legislature’s and public’s expense.

    Having witnessed both sides of whistleblower cases in my state, I would note that the first major WB case I followed back in the 70’s did not involve a WB who followed the established procedures but instead, went directly to a well known reporter for the largest newspaper in the state who received the document that began what to this day was the largest government scandal in our state’s history. It went down similar to the Ellsberg leak but in the end, the WB was left standing and had a lot of people join him/her. It was pretty stunning. .

    This is what I expect in the present situation. It’s not the first WB who steps up that causes the dominos to fall, it’s the ones that follow. That is the pattern, assuming the WB is not simply a disgruntled officer/employee but someone who is acting as a concerned citizen. I would bet that the Intel Committee is being contacted regularly by additional people who are now willing to share what they know as well. We shall see.

    It has been alarming to watch Trump ignore Congress with no apparent way to stop him. There should exist a fairly straight forward response to ignoring Congressional subpoenas, forfeiture of office by operation of law. Congress would likely wind up in federal court regardless but at least this remedy is simple to understand and has serious teeth. Congress can never let something like what we are watching now happen again. Actions must have consequences or else why bother?

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