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CIA employee’s quest to release information ‘destroyed my entire career’ (washingtonpost.com)
182 points by gluxon on July 6, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

It seems like that as time has gone on, the intelligence apparatus in the US and closely allied countries has come to depend more and more on holding any and all information on anything.

It's their leverage and it's their ability to control and influence events. Even small concessions are probably felt to be too much, and I imagine to many in the CIA and elsewhere, a cold war domino effect mentality still permeates.

It's ridiculous, and it undermines a free flow of knowledge that our society desperately needs to function effectively. However, it only seems to be increasing in scope, and I believe the people related are more concerned about their positions and power rather than the long term viability of our country.

Addenum: Perhaps worse, is that behaviors like this from the CIA, FBI, and NSA give ample diplomatic ammunition to every totalitarian and oppressive state on the planet and it legitimizes their actions. Even more so, they can argue that they were at least transparent about it rather than lying to the public. It's sad to think that a place that used to stand for freedom from oppression can more and more be used as a justification for it.

When was the last time you filed a FOIA request with the FSB or KGB? Or the BND or Säpo?

Every totalitarian and oppressive state on the planet will find a reason to legitimize their actions regardless of whether or not America passes acts like the 1966 FOIA.

Should we also let all the murderers and rapists out of jail because they didn't commit genocide? The fact that the US intelligence apparatus is one of the taller pygmies around doesn't make it a giant.

If its genocide you are worried about, best pay more attention to those committing genocide rather than murderers and rapists. If its freedom of information you care about, best pay more attention to the FSBs, KGBs, BNDs and Säpos of the world than the CIAs, NSAs and FBIs.

But I guess you can't hate what you can't see. And I say that with the understanding that FOIA + CIA is probably as uniquely American as it gets.

Sure, you're the best in the world. Nobody else has any kind of Freedom of Information Act. And nobody else but freedom-loving Americans would ever dare to direct such a request towards his own intelligence service.

Wait, three seconds of googling resulted in https://fragdenstaat.de/files/foi/2812/antwort.pdf

And in Sweden, "Offentlighetsprincipen" is not only much older than the America FOIA (let's say... ten years older than your Declaration of Independence!), but even part of the country's constitution.

It's a good point, but my point was that it's not an either/or thing. There's plenty of outrage to go around, and the fact of the matter is that the NSA has enjoyed a very privileged position on the internet that the FSB simply doesn't have, so even if they're relatively transparent and respect the rule of law more than the FSB, we never trusted the FSB with anything sensitive in the first place, so they had no opportunity to commit the crimes that the NSA has perpetrated.

Not to mention, the NSA are the ones that the Americans are actually paying for and who we have some (albeit low) chance of stopping. There's no point letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

It is an either/or thing. Either you have a robust American FOIA-like system... Or you don't. (If you're outside America: You don't.) You want us to hate them all, I argue it is practically impossible to hate anyone else besides the NSA/CIA/FBI without an equivalent to the FOIA. Its epitomized by the American phrases "what you don't know can't hurt you", "what the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over" and "ignorance is bliss". I think where people get it wrong is when non-Americans think America is the problem--and that is because they lack a FOIA.

> we never trusted the FSB with anything sensitive in the first place, so they had no opportunity to commit the crimes that the NSA has perpetrated.

Don't mistake absence of evidence as evidence of absence. And I say that knowing full well that without a FOIA, such a mistake is impossible to avoid. The fact is you have no clue about any agencies besides the NSA/CIA/FBI. Be careful how reliant your hatred is upon knowledge when your knowledge is deficient.

> the NSA are the ones that the Americans are actually paying for and who we have some (albeit low) chance of stopping

The NSA/CIA/FBI are the ones that anyone has any chance of stopping. Because its the only one where FOIA information can overcome your ignorance that "they had no opportunity" or some such nonsense. But the first step is to enact FOIAs, not stopping the NSA/CIA/FBI.

>It is an either/or thing. Either you have a robust American FOIA-like system... Or you don't. (If you're outside America: You don't.)

You might not have meant it that way...but there are other FOIA-like laws in other countries. For example, RTI (Right to Information) Act of India - I have several people that I know who have used it for great success. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, it is broader in scope than the FOIA - since it is used to get information on things like why a certain person was rejected for a govt promotion, the internal status of my passport application, etc

Indeed I did. Specifically in the context of FOIA requests for CIA-like agencies. I am sure other countries have them; I am unsure how many apply them to their foreign intelligence services.

Does India's RTI Act apply to agencies like the RAW?

From what wikipedia says[1], it seems that in India you can't get information that would affect national security, but I highly doubt you can get that in USA either. You brought up BND and SäPo earlier, and from the same article it appears that both Germany and Sweden do guarantee access to all official federal information.

[1] http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_information_laws_by_cou...

I think it's also worth mentioning that the NSA and CIA apparently side-step or white-wash FOIA requests whenever they really don't want to turn over information, for "reasons"? What good is the FOIA in regards to intelligence agencies if requests are either not fulfilled, whitewashed, or involving people long retired/dead? At that point it's all theatre.

Yes. And I'm hoping the more countries that apply FOIAs to their intelligence/security services, the more likely we are to get a robust solution to these problems.

You might want to edit all your very sure posts about how this is an american thing, seeing as you've been corrected now. Being that it's what you base most of your argument on you might as well just delete them entirely.

Can't. And yes, I have been aware that other countries have FOIA-like legislation, just as I am aware the Soviet Union and China had/have constitutional rights to freedom of speech.

I am still of the opinion that this means little if nothing without a discussion of implementation details. I.e., whether or not they match American jurisprudence on application to intelligence services such as the case at hand. (E.g., It is on the implementation details when you discover that China and the USSR do NOT have freedom of speech, their constitutions be damned. The devil's in the details.) Wikipedia does not go this in-depth, the UK has stare decisis but lacks codified laws, Germany's FOIA laws are very recent, Sweden is small with an even smaller pool of lawyers and law professors who write about such issues, and in general these countries don't seem to have well-developed "constant jurisprudence" to compliment their very ambiguous statutory law, so the state of things can be extremely difficult to ascertain. (I admit I did not know Sweden's freedom of the press "constitutional law" was applicable, nor about Germany's recent legislation which is not very tested AKAIK. I assume Russia has one as well, leftover from Soviet times. The UK, Russia, Germany and Sweden are the only countries who's legal systems I have knowledge of.)

Just as in America, there is statutory law, then there is reality. They can, and do, deviate significantly.

I dislike many of the recent revelations about the intelligence community's activities, but if this guy based a freedom of information request on information that he only knew about due to his access to classified information, then he did in fact mishandle classified information. You are only allowed to use classified information to perform your duties at work.

I agree that there should be things in place to protect legitimate whistle blowers, but that doesn't even seem to come into play here.

Then again, we don't know the complete story, so I reserve judgement.

From the article:

> Scudder’s FOIA submissions fell into two categories: one seeking new digital copies of articles already designated for release and another aimed at articles yet to be cleared. He made spreadsheets that listed the titles of all 1,987 articles he wanted, he said, then had them scanned for classified content and got permission to take them home so he could assemble his FOIA request on personal time.

So, apparently the CIA said 'nothing classified in this list of titles' and let him take them home... only to attack him later for some of the titles being classified. If he isn't lying, then do you support the CIA punishing him for someone other agent's mistake?

> if this guy based a freedom of information request on information that he only knew about due to his access to classified information, then he did in fact mishandle classified information

So just knowing that they exist to create a FOIA request is a 'mishandling' if classified information? What about the 1,400 articles that were cleared, but were just sitting around? What about the fact that the CIA cleared his spreadsheet of titles to take home and work on the FOIA requests?

>If he isn't lying, then do you support the CIA punishing him for someone other agent's mistake?

I didn't say I supported punishing him. I said "If" he did a certain thing, he would be guilty of mishandling classified information. If he didn't do that certain thing, then he's not guilty.

In the course of handling nearly 2000 documents, it would be easy to make a mistake and accidentally include one that had not been approved by his supervisor.

Going solely off of the information in the article, if he made no such mistakes, the fault should lie with his supervisor (If and only if it can be proven that his supervisor approved the release of information that he should have known was still sensitive.)

I was just talking about the handling of classified information in general. From the limited information we have, it seems like this particular CIA agent was just trying to do the right thing. I was just attempting to illustrate that when it comes to handling classified information, it is very easy to make an honest mistake that could land you in a world of trouble.

That's part of the reason I got away from working for the government. Too much stress.

>but if this guy based a freedom of information request on information that he only knew about due to his access to classified information, then he did in fact mishandle classified information. You are only allowed to use classified information to perform your duties at work.

I don't get this. Even assuming this is true (and the other reply here seems to cast some doubt on this claim), how is trying to get something released through official channels "mishandling classified information"? In fact, the fact that we don't know this stuff even exists is one of the major problems with FOIA requests. The same stuff constantly happens with the NSA - everyone gets mad about XKeyscore, so they say, "OK, we've stopped the XKeyscore project", but they just have another project, YKeyspore, where they were doing a bunch of similar stuff, and they move all the objectionable stuff into YKeyspore, so now they can say, "We shut down the XKeyscore project." and it sounds like they said, "We've stopped spying on journalists."

The only way the public ever learns about these types of wordgames is when someone with classified access sacrifices their life and/or career to tell us about it. This sort of story is the exact reason why it's disingenuous to say that Edward Snowden and other national security whistleblowers have legitimate channels.

>This sort of story is the exact reason why it's disingenuous to say that Edward Snowden and other national security whistleblowers have legitimate channels.

You won't hear me arguing against you. Contractors don't really have a legitimate channel that they can report things to without risking their careers.

FOIA requests are based upon the information that everyone knows about: the FOIA. Such a reason is unimpeachable.

This is amazing:

> The CIA disbanded the Historical Collections Division last year, citing budget cuts

How much have we increased overall intelligence services budgets in the past 10 years? And they can’t afford to keep paying their internal historians?

It seems to have been going down in the last two years http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_intelligence_budg... Although it's still higher than it was in 2009.

This is less an issue of an agency that lost sight of legal requirements to allow documents be released to the public than it is an indicator of an institution stuck with boys-club hierarchy where any questioning goes against the parental nature of things.

And despite the washington posts desire to paint this with the same stroke they did the email cache from snowden, the two are entirely different issues. this juxtaposition along with how overboard the post went in considering "ongoing intelligence operations" in the snowden case, just feels like ass covering.

> In an interview, Scudder, 51, cast his ordeal as a struggle against “mindless” bureaucracy...

I think this is wrong.

Bureaucracies are made up of people. Some of those people choose to persecute whistle-blowers. They don't have to, they have a choice. They are not automatons.

Blaming it on bureaucracy wrongfully absolves the individuals.

>Blaming it on bureaucracy wrongfully absolves the individuals.

I agree with the sentiment, but I think the point of calling it mindless bureaucracy is to emphasize that these systems themselves tend to reward this sort of behavior and punish deviation. Even if you punished all the individuals involved (which you should, because that's one of the reasons that these bureaucracies have these incentives), you might get a good organization for a while, but the natural entropy of things would push it back to something resembling the status quo unless you change the fundamental incentives.

Frankly, I imagine the bureaucrats in general would be happy to blame it on "a few bad apples" and just move things along.

It is troublesome that I am afraid to comment on this article in fear of my NSA_SUSPICION_INT rising.

It's not the NSA_SUSPICIOUN_INT rising I worry about. I am certain that individual monitoring of the average hobo like your or me (I don't know maybe you're actually a TOR dev or something) isn't happing, BUT someday you may become an interest to the police for something and THEN they look at your posting history and THEN they will find your possibly less sensitive comments on how you hated such and such and put some horrible out of context quote in big print on a poster at your trial when the prosecutor makes his case for why you should be in jail for the rest of your life for something you may or may not have actually done.

And so I use anonymous accounts to post things other than nice happy words relevant to my job so they don't show up in search results. I create new accounts and stuff. I can be pretty opinionated and I don't want the average person googling my very googlable name and seeing my stupid uninformed opinions and using that to misinterpret me or something.

I would much rather post anti-government opinions with my name attached than anonymously. As much as we complain about the NSA, we do in fact still live in a free society with a right to habeas corpus. Should you ever find yourself at trial, where the prosecutors try to turn "anti-government sentiment" against you, would you rather it be written behind an anonymous pseudonym or your real name? If they're going to find it regardless, then at least with your real name attached, you have the credibility of your persona, which you should confidently feel is worth something to a jury.

It's much easier to argue a case for freedom of speech when it doesn't appear you're trying to hide something. After all, who would attach their name to an opinion he didn't want people to know he held?

Furthermore, I'm proud of my opinions. If I'm going to perpetuate them, I'm going to do it with my name attached. God willing, should I ever have to defend those opinions in court, I will proudly and defiantly do so. Hiding behind a pseudonym strikes me as needless cowardice in the face of yet manifest oppression.

This anti-government, anti-NSA, anti-1984 rhetoric is healthy and valuable, but let's keep our emotions in check and avoid overdramaticizing the situation. We don't live in a police state. Yet. If we ever get to that point, I would like to have my trail of opinions to fall back on and use to defend myself.

I have been on Reddit for eight years, and only came out with my name today. People should be encouraged to use aliases for any number of reasons. To name a few:

  * You should be able to express an idea without that idea being attached to a known identity (partly because people may judge the idea based on the known identity)
  * You should be allowed to "start over" (heck, I might want to start over soon)
  * In the face of an Orwellian government or an unaccepting society, you should be able to safely express your true opinions

While I can admire your stance, I think it is naive and doesn't reflect reality. Look at how weev's statements on reddit were used against him at his trial. Also if you look at the people involved in NinjaVideo, an illicit online streaming site, you will find that prosecutors also used their online statements against them. Employers will use your online statements to create a profile of you that influences their decision to hire you or not. There's no way I'm using my real name to say I like the idea of a guaranteed basic income or that I like Hillary Clinton for office, because America is polarized. We do not live in a police state, but your statements can haunt you in many ways. They can hurt you at criminal trials, civil trials (like a divorce), they can hurt you with employers and potential employers, they can hurt your academic career (finding a school), they can hurt your family.

I am not proud of my opinions, I think I'm probably mistaken about most of the opinions I have, and I think this because of past experience and bad opinions that I now regret expressing.


If you're already the victim of intimidation, there are only two viable options: give up, stop making waves (not my recommendation, but I won't fault anyone for prioritizing their income/economic security/family) -- or be more vocal and outspoken. That's how such things have been stopped, and brought to light before.

Eg, see: "Pete Seeger - Black List" for some historical context and inspiration. This abuse of power isn't new, not in the US and not in Europe.


OT/ I'd really like to hear your story, even if you were to leave out identifying details. Were you using a pseudonym? What political area were you being "overly vocal"? How did they intimidate you?

If you're commenting here, you've almost certainly googled the Tor Project or Tails, and have read at least one Linux Journal article, so you're already classed as a dangerous extremist and some NSA employee is busy seeing if your taste in porn caters to their personal fetishes.

I bet it does...

Don't worry. Just comment here, where the NSA will never see it.

Although you are joking, HN does use https, so it's less likely to be caught up in a fiber tap dragnet, and more likely to require a scraping bot dragnet ;-).

He should have used parallel construction. Had someone else actually submit the requests for the docs he found that he figured should be public.

Getting your home raided for submitting a FOIA request seems to neatly summarize the state of freedom of information.

This should be pushed over to swintonreport.com. Not to push it as a site, but it does carry this type of pertinent information.

What did he think was going to happen? He acts like an idealistic and naive attention grabbing princess.

> He acts like an idealistic and naive attention grabbing princess.

Please put in at least a little effort to remain civil on this site. All that you've contributed to the discussion is:

> He got what was coming to him. <insert-name-calling>

What has happened to us that "idealistic" has somehow become a slur?

> histories of long-dormant conflicts and operations that he concluded were still being stored in secret years after they should have been shared with the public.

Ya, I'm trying to figure out what he thought would happen.

That sentence might be unclear, but there are laws and policies that govern how long certain operations can be kept secret once they are concluded. Since the CIA has since published 1400 of the 1700 documents, it seems he was mostly right.

Edit: this is clarified later. In the process, he said, he discovered about 1,600 articles that were listed as released to the public but could not be found at the National Archives.

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