Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Media Musings: Mark This

 

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.

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  1. Boss Mongo Member

    Clifford A. Brown: This stuff just isn’t that hard.

    No. It isn’t. But it does take a methodical, aware mindset to do this stuff correctly. Many (unfortunately including personnel in the IC) just don’t have that dedication to thoroughness.

    • #1
    • February 3, 2020, at 3:04 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  2. Albert Arthur Podcaster

    Clifford A. Brown: This stuff just isn’t that hard.

    Sorry, but the fact that I read your post and have no idea what you’re even talking about indicates to me that it is complicated. I literally have zero idea of what happened.

    • #2
    • February 3, 2020, at 1:03 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. Cow Girl Thatcher

    Albert Arthur (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: This stuff just isn’t that hard.

    Sorry, but the fact that I read your post and have no idea what you’re even talking about indicates to me that it is complicated. I literally have zero idea of what happened.

    Um…yes. I agree with Albert Arthur. Huh??

    But, YES. Getting this right is really important.

    • #3
    • February 3, 2020, at 11:25 PM PST
    • Like
  4. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    Cow Girl (View Comment):

    Albert Arthur (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: This stuff just isn’t that hard.

    Sorry, but the fact that I read your post and have no idea what you’re even talking about indicates to me that it is complicated. I literally have zero idea of what happened.

    Um…yes. I agree with Albert Arthur. Huh??

    But, YES. Getting this right is really important.

    Thanks for the feedback. Let me try breaking it down:

    1. Look at the image at the top of the post. This is what the top, the header, on an unclassified cover letter should look like when separated from the classified portion (an attachment or enclosure). See the black bar above the “(Unclassified when…)?” That is Scott Johnson doing the work the Senate staff should have done before putting this cover letter up on the unclassified, publicly accessible Senate website, from which Scott Johnson grabbed a copy, I presume.
    2. The Senate staff improperly posted their digital copy, for public access, without putting that black bar across the series of letters that tell you exactly how classified and even what set of countries gets to share this particular classified information. You NEVER leave those markings on a document when it is unclassified or declassified. Why? Because otherwise the document is presumed, on its face, to need the restricted handling and storage claimed at the very top and the very bottom of each page. Further, you give away some information about our classification system, what information are we treating in what manner?
    3. The Federalist messed up and posted exactly what the Senate staff posted. Then a competent adult, perhaps a reader, realized the foul-up and now you see the Federalist article has no embedded image of the original PDF from the Senate. The Federalist fixed its article.
    4. Nevertheless, the Federalist author remained confused. I highlighted two mistaken claims.
      1. The Federalist author claims there were two letters sent by the Senators to the AG. Not true. There was one letter. The one letter was sent in two channels. The full letter, including the classified attachment/enclosure, was sent by proper classified means. The unclassified cover letter, rendered unclassified by separating it from the classified attachment/enclosure, was sent by regular email and was posted up on the Senate committee website for the public to see. This was so that pressure could be brought to bear on the Attorney General and DOJ staff, letting everyone know that these senators have raised a stink about possible deception by the IG.
      2. The Federalist author incorrectly claims the letter is unclear. No it is not, for the reason that the specifics of the claimed deception/wrong-doing are classified, and so are not in the cover letter. The specifics are classified because they talk about classified material. So, the senators created a classified attachment to go into the specifics of their accusations, detailing the four footnotes that appear to have been falsely classified in order to conceal from public discussion, and effective Congressional oversight, information that the IG lied about in unclassified settings. We may trust that Senator Grassley ain’t playing, that he was quite blunt and specific. The cover letter, if it is to be available to the public at all, must avoid the specifics that the press crave, claiming lack of clarity by the senators if reporters don’t get the details they want right now.
    • #4
    • February 3, 2020, at 11:50 PM PST
    • 1 like
  5. Boss Mongo Member

    Albert Arthur (View Comment):
    Sorry, but the fact that I read your post and have no idea what you’re even talking about indicates to me that it is complicated. I literally have zero idea of what happened.

    @max, Mr. Brown did a great job of describing it, but if you don’t work in that realm, what he’s saying may sound like Cantonese, uttered by a drunken pirate cruising for prey in the Malacca Straits.

    So, let’s flip the script. Let’s say you saw some programmers perform an extremely scattershot job in their coding and you said, “Well, that’s just laziness. Here’s the bugs they built into the program just through their apathy and negligence,” and then proceeded to articulately and adroitly list their shortfalls.

    That would be awesome, I’m sure, but you’d get a comment from me saying, “Mongo likes point and click. Mongo doesn’t get it.”

    This is like that.

    • #5
    • February 4, 2020, at 5:57 PM PST
    • 1 like