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How hard is this reporting stuff? Is it too much to ask people who are paid to publish to get basic reporting right? Could they perhaps take a moment to think through the logic of documents, on their face, before and after drafting a news or analysis piece? Not that I have any strong opinions on the subject, but pardon me while I rant a bit about a Federalist article … and poor Senate Republican staff work.
The context is an excellent post by Scott Johnson at PowerLine “Dear AG Barr: Declassify This.” In that post, you will see a cover letter from Republican Senators to Attorney General Barr. This embedded copy is properly marked for it to be on an unclassified network. You may safely download a copy without imposing a serious burden on yourself and any network administrator. This is in marked contrast to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. And, briefly, The Federalist.
The Federalist crew originally cut and pasted or embedded the Senate document, compounding the error by Senate staffers. Now the Federalist has cleaned up its site, removing the embedded document. Good on them. Shame on the Senate staff, who have not corrected the error. What error? The cover letter is, by itself, unclassified and publicly releasable. However, it was the cover letter to a highly classified enclosure, made so by the level of classification asserted by the DOJ IG for four footnotes. Therefore, default classification for the cover letter is the same as the enclosure, same as the footnotes. Those classication markings go at the top and bottom of every page. The “unclassified” markings go inside, nearer to the body of the page.
Here is the one weird trick for Classified Document Handling 101: when you separate the unclassified pages and intend to carry/post/transmit them outside secure storage containers/networks, you strike though, black out, the classified markings! This is so that it is screamingly obvious, on its face, to everyone, including you, how that particular document is to be handled. Failure to do so means every copy looks, on its face, like a highly classified document. Not good; very bad.
Now that you understand the first foul-up, my second rant will make sense. Look at what Tristan Justice claims in the Federalist [emphasis added]:
Two top Republican senators on Tuesday alleged that claims made in a report from Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz mischaracterized evidence about the government’s secret surveillance of the Trump campaign during and after the 2016 presidential election. Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., wrote to Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday demanding that the Justice Department declassify four footnotes in the inspector general’s report on FISA abuses released last December.
The senators sent two letters to the attorney general, one classified and one unclassified, identifying four footnotes they are requesting be made public. The unclassified letter was made available online.
…It is unclear which claims in the report are allegedly contradicted by the footnotes or which footnotes are specifically at issue. The senators also do not specify whether the alleged mischaracterizations were made by Horowitz or subjects of his investigation whose claims are cited in the report. The unprecedented letter from Grassley and Johnson raises questions about whether the FBI or other U.S. intelligence or agencies deliberately classified certain evidence that could potentially show that the Comey-led investigation against the Trump campaign was based on false premises known to the FBI and was therefore legally invalid and not properly predicated.
First, there is only one letter, not two. There may have been a separate transmission of the cover letter on the unclassified, publicly accessible network. The same letter, with classification markings and the classified enclosure, was transmitted on the classified network or sent by courier.
Second, the lack of clarity in the unclassified cover letter is quite intentional. These senators are not going to give away secrets, even by reference. You may be sure their classified enclosure was perfectly clear as to which claims, which footnotes, and possibly who done it.
This stuff just isn’t that hard.