Well dear readers, not directly linked to Ukraine…….although even when nothing is linked, everything is linked at certain levels…… here is a link to the Secret Intelligence Services website of the UK and head of shed, Sir John, putting things into persepective (and do click on the link at the bottom to his full speech) from his (and many other people’s) point of view.
Once upon a time, back in my distant and some may say merky past, I was what is known at Positively Vetted (PV) when working for Her Maj.
This and my role in the wheels and cogs of the organisations I was in (and involved with) gave me access to documents and information of a senstive nature than is generally available to many.
Despite signing the Official Secrets Act, the oaths I undertook would prevent me volunteering any specifics as a matter of principle so I will write in generalities.
Let us look at the basics, Top Secret, Secret, Confidential, Restricted and Unclassified…..together with such add-ons as Flash, Immediate, Priority and Routine, that equate to who you wake up (or not) relating to information recieved.
Who sets the status of such communications? Generally it is the author of any communication and as such it is given its status relating to security and speed of dissemination by them.
This inherently means over (or occasionally) under classification and the waking of those unneccessarily in the silent hours on occasion.
This said, what I may have seen in a Secret/Top Secret document may not be the whole picture given the “need to know” system. It maybe what I have seen and immediately thought was over classified due to the contents I see, is but a portion of a much more substantial document relating to many more players (each of whom may think the same as I do on receipt of but a small section of a document or instruction relating to the grand plan).
To stop the grand plan losing its importants and requirement for waking people in the silent hours, notwithstanding a lesser classification possibly leading to a more relaxed attitude towards to contents and thus reaching eyes and ears it shouldn’t…..but meaning much more to them than me…….what I get to see remains classified at the level of the grand plan.
This is fair enough and understandable.
The issue comes with the declassifying of this material when it is historically far beyond any effective use to those subject of the grand plan as it has been actioned numerous years ago and anything contained in the still classified documents has been witnessed, on the ground, by those who could have learned anything from the classified documents……ie lessons have already be learned and their protocols adapted to counter the methods used in the grand plan as actioned some years ago.
At what point and who decides to downgrade the documents. There is not reason to retain a unnecessarily high classification just because the contents will embarrass a government or individual should the downgrade make it possible to allow open access through Freedom of Information requests.
However, there is also the real responsibility that comes with leaks or FOI requests that a lesser experienced opposition may glean something from them they had not previously considered.
Difficult decisions abound for those who must make them. There is ultimately a price one way or another when there is substantial amount of the public distrusting of government (any government) who seeks access to confirm or deny any theory (conspiracy or otherwise) aganst that of continued trust between intelligence agencies.
No decisions in life are without their consequences be they big or small.
The problems with classifying Secret on almost everything is that Secret becomes routine (not to be confused with Routine and dissemination), the storage of Secret and above correspondents (over that of Confidential, Restricted and Uncalssified) and the timing, authorities needed and subsquent classification of any new status given to the previously secretive documents.
Now lets us move onto the topical subject of informants. There are many types of informant. There is Mrs Smith who calls the local police because she sees someone breaking into a house. She is a concerned member of the public who may or may not, when push comes to shove, give a statement about what she saw for any criminal proceedings. She will however be recorded when telephoning the police to report the incident in progress and 99 times from 100 will, without a thought, give the control room her details before deciding not to give a statement to the police later about what she saw.
When asked in a courtroom, in the absense of Mrs Smith, where the information came from that led to the apprehension of those in the dock, the usual and accepted police responce is “acting on information recieved” and it is rarely pushed as to who gave the information if they have not given a statement.
(Of course Mrs Smith can be made to appear at court, but she would be possibly a hostile witness).
Moving this into an international arena throws up even more considerations as to whether information is acted upon or not.
What if the information acted upon was gained as a reult of torture and passed on from a sovereign nation known for its brutality?
Do you act on it and attempt to/or save lives of 100 other people…….or do you ignore this information so as not to be complicite (possibly if the information was gained by torture) in a moral stand for the rights of those being tortured…..as international law would dictate?
Do you play is a little more wisely and advice that the source of this information which could save lives be routed through a third party with an outstanding human rights record and thus acting on it would wash your hands of any complicity?
Tough decisions with outrageous results whichever way you call it.
Returning to the informant issue. After Mrs Smith who calls once in her life, there is often the village gossip who volunteers what they hear daily. What protection from public identification do any authorities given them if there is the serious chance of reprocussions of their loose lips sinking a particularly unpleasant ship?
We then move on to informants that are registered by the authorities. These are generally people with better access to the secretive world the authorities struggle to get intelligence from.
This type of informant requires control. In most cases there are two handlers, a controller and a centrally held register which identifies the real identity of an informant and the pseudonym they are given. All intelligence reports coming from this informant only use the pseudonym as the source. It is not common that anyone other than handlers and controller are aware the informant is in fact an informant (other than those who have access to the informant register of course).
The problem (ignoring reliability and reasons for their participation…..be it financial gain, revenge, ideology/morals etc) with such people is control. It is one thing to pass information they are aware of, another to step up into the arena of participating informant in situations they have not planned but are expected to participate in by others, to the ultimate problem of agent provocateur in which they orchestrate an incident, inform on it and expect to get their financial reward/revenge/moral victory etc via something that would never have happened lest they were given the opportunity by the authorities.
Clear legal lines have a habit of becoming somewhat smudged and it can become difficult to anchor oneself to the law when the gains of an action based on questionable legality far outweigh the morality of rigidly sticking to the letter of the law and thus numerous others continuing to suffer because no “latitude” was given.
Ultimately though, it all comes down to the trust of the public in their secret services and the government ministers they answer to and that trust is continually deminishing. One only has to look back at instants such as Klaus Barbie working for American intelligence, rat lines of the US, UK intelligence agencies and the Catholic Church for wanted War Criminals from WWII onwards to understand why.
Anyway, talking of trust and government and such heady social responsibilities, it’s voting day in Odessa today, so I need to depart and escort the good lady to the voting station.