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The CIA Doesn’t Need a ‘Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade’ to Keep Secrets

July 2nd, 2013

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John Brennan’s “Honor the Oath” program is misguided, counterproductive — and a little insulting to agency employees.

The U.S. intelligence community is having a terribly rough time lately with employees who just won’t keep their mouths shut. Following Edward Snowden’s drip-drip-drip of top-secret revelations and “several high-profile anonymous leaks and publications by former senior officers,” CIA in late June launched the “Honor the Oath” effort — an internal movement to stop officers from leaking classified material. It was indeed deliciously ironic that this missive was then leaked to the Associated Press.

But this new effort is a misguided and even counterproductive approach to keep secrets, well, secret. It’s misguided because CIA employees typically don’t — with rare exceptions — disclose classified information to the press. Here’s why:

They’re constantly reminded of the oath already. CIA employees are already acutely aware of what happens when you disclose classified material. From the first day a new agency trainee, analyst, or administrative staff member enters CIA Headquarters and “takes the oath” to uphold and protect the U.S. Constitution, they are told in no uncertain terms the very ugly, life-destroying consequences of betraying privileged information. As a former analyst, I remember the gruff, mustachioed fellow from the Office of Security who, on the first day of my employment, made this point crystal clear.

This emphasis is underscored in multiple training classes. For example, every new analyst must attend the Career Analyst Program (CAP), where grizzled intelligence vets teach “the basic thinking, writing, and briefing skills needed for a successful career.” One point that gets hammered home is what happens to people who provide information to those who shouldn’t have it — especially foreign governments. These classes highlight, among other cases, the Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen affairs, and take care to emphasize that these former top officials are currently serving life sentences in prison. Read the rest of this entry »