Despite Metaphysical Impossibility, US Government Repeatedly Attempts Retroactive Classification

On Friday, I noted that the New York Times had dutifully repeated information from military sources who had provided them with a “classified” report (pdf) on how cultural differences between NATO troops and Afghan troops are resulting in increasingly frequent killings of coalition troops by coalition-trained Afghan troops.  On Friday morning, the Times put up a correction, noting that the Wall Street Journal had published an article about the May 12, 2011 report on June 17, 2011.

I mentioned in my Friday post that the Wall Street Journal article included a link to what was said to be a copy of the report, but that the link was now dead. It is quite curious that the Journal article would have that link, as the opening sentence mentions that the report is classified. In comments on the post, Marcy Wheeler posed the question of whether the study “was intentionally buried after the WSJ story? Maybe that’s what NYT’s claim that it is classified is about?” So, in other words, was the study retroactively classified because of the Wall Street Journal article?

With only a little searching after reading both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal articles, I found what appeared to be a complete copy (pdf) of the same report (or at least a copy with the same title and number of pages), clearly stamped “UNCLASSIFIED” at the top and bottom of each page. Several hours after my post was published, the Times added a second correction to their story:

The article also referred incompletely to the military study’s secrecy. While it was classified, as the article reported, it was first distributed in early May 2011 as unclassified and was later changed to classified. (The Times learned after publication that a version of the study has remained accessible on the Internet.)

So it turns out that Marcy’s hunch was correct. The report initially was published as unclassified and then later classified, in a clear case of retroactive classification. There is perhaps just a hair of wiggle room in the Times’ statement that “a version of the study has remained accessible on the internet”, providing for the remote possibility that there are differences between the “classified” version provided to the times and the complete version on the internet, but that seems highly unlikely. The copy on the internet is almost certainly a copy from the time period when the study clearly was unclassified.

This sequence of events also is confirmed somewhat in the Wall Street Journal article itself: Read more