The NSA doesn’t like leaks that much. But it does like leaks when it chooses to leak, as then it gets to exert influence over the media, and thus potentially shape the public narrative. And as we have variously learned, not everything initially marked TOP SECRET//COMINT//NO FORN needs to stay that way.
But that doesn’t mean to say that the NSA, which has a requirement to inform Congress when it leaks certain information, wants you to know what it has leaked, and what has otherwise managed to find its way out on its own.
A request for the government to disclose precisely what it had leaked was rebuffed through what might be my new favorite use of the English language yet:
Your request has been processed under the provisions of the FOIA. The document responsive to your request has been reviewed by this Agency as required by the FOIA and has been found to be currently and properly classified in accordance with Executive Order 13526. This document meets the criteria for classification as set forth in Subparagraph (c) of Section 1.4 and remains classified TOP SECRET as provided in Section 1.2 of Executive Order 13526. The document is classified because its disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security. Because the document is currently and properly classified, it is exempt from disclosure pursuant to the first exemption of the FOIA (5 U.S.C. Section 552(b)(1)).
What was precisely requested in the Freedom of Information Act request? “[A] copy of any notifications to Congress that may have been transmitted by DoD in the past 12 months concerning authorized public disclosures of intelligence information.”
As noted before, the Congressional component matters as there is a requirement for our nation’s deliberating body to be kept informed of what is being leaked to prevent confusion and embarrassment.
There have been numerous authorized leaks over the years, including thecontroversial White House leaks about the killing of Osama bin Laden. There have been even more unauthorized leaks, however—by government officials and workers. It makes sense for Congress to want to know when classified information has been leaked or declassified in order to distinguish official leaks from unauthorized ones. Lawmakers on the intelligence committees look silly when they tell reporters they can’t talk about something, while government officials are freely yapping about the same topic behind their backs. They also look silly when they publicly call for a criminal investigation into a leak that turns out to have been authorized. And, of course, members of both parties in Congress want to know when the party in power in the White House might be authorizing leaks for political gain.
Therefore, to ask Congress what was disclosed is a pretty decent way to ask what was leaked by the government. And there is a document! We just don’t get to see it.
So what the government thought was fit for public consumption to help build its own case and shape discourse — this happens everywhere, of course — we can’t know, because then the terrorists might win.
There is a chance that the public’s knowledge of a leak’s origin — in the case of a leak that was in some sense blind — could aid an enemy. That chance seems remote. But the remoteness of that potentiality instead belies what I think is a far simpler explanation: The government doesn’t want to disclose the extent of what it has leaked, because it would undermine its case that all these leaks are so damaging.
For now, though, no information for you.