The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
More Books by James Dunnigan
Dirty Little Secrets
Secrets That Aren't Secrets
Discussion Board on this DLS topic
by James Dunnigan
May 8, 2005
One interesting problem with classified electronic tools, notably computer based
ones like photo analysis equipment and other systems, is that once anything is
processed using this gear, the product of that work becomes classified. Even if
it’s something innocuous. During tsunami relief operation earlier this year,
helicopter crewmembers, personnel humping cargo, and medics delivering emergency
care to the victims, often took pictures of the devastation using digital
cameras or even cheap disposable cameras.
Since folks back on the ship –
including intel people – thought these pictures might be useful, the were often
processed using classified equipment (which could easily enhance the images or
correct the color). The pictures were also sometimes sent over classified
networks (“Admiral, the attached pictures illustrate the extent of the damage in
Bandar Aceh”). Any of these actions instantly turned the pictures into
This meant that the pictures could not then be
passed on to people who might find them useful, including Indonesian government
officials, relief workers, journalists, and even officials of US government
agencies, such as the State Department or the Agency for International
Development. Nor could the people who took the pictures keep them, even if they
were taken with private equipment.
There are two morals to this story.
First, a process is needed to permit rapid declassificaiton of pictures and
other items that are themselves not essential to national security, and, second,
be careful what you use to pretty up that digital picture of your kid’s first
birthday, lest it end up Top Secret.