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Classified Information Required Essay

1256 words - 6 pages

This article expounds upon the reasons and requirements for classification of information in modern governments. It cites the reasons societies, governments, and leaders keep state secrets, along with historical examples of such activity. Spying – the attempt to steal such information – is discussed in context along with more recent cultural demands for more transparency from governments as to what sort of information they are keeping from their citizens. The article weighs the pros and cons of keeping classified information, and explains the requirement for keeping state secrets. 

Governments have existed since mankind began forming societies thousands of years ago. Humans have ...view middle of the document...

From the times of these early examples onward, people have always endeavored to protect information important to their safety and well-being, and to steal that same sort of information from their neighbors. Information, people learned very quickly, was power. In the article “Espionage”, the author stated, "political espionage is the most valuable and most difficult form…” (Gale, 2002). Political information is often classified or kept confidential. It may be for the purpose of gaining a small advantage at a negotiation, or it may be a major embarrassment to a government. Most modern countries keep detailed dossiers on other countries’ political leaders and heads of state, in hopes of gaining advantage in negotiations and treaties. In this modern age of electronic information available literally in the blink of an eye, new methods, and new entities, such as the National Security Agency, carry on the tradition of obtaining and classifying information. How those agencies are used and what is done with the information is often a matter of some controversy, and opponents such as the American Civil Liberties Union frequently lash out at them, demanding more transparency and accountability (Schoenfeld, 2006).

Along with classified information comes the art of espionage, or spying. Essentially, stealing information from one group for the benefit of another. Perhaps the most infamous American case is Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent who spied on the United States for the former Soviet Union in the 1980’s. His treachery cost several American lives, and spanned 22 of his 25 years as an FBI agent (Ragavan, 2004). His tale is a cautionary one, demonstrating the importance of protecting a nation’s sensitive information. There are of course many stories of spying, from the fictional James Bond to the factual Enigma Code of World War II. Spies and spying are often romanticized in popular culture and film, but the fact of the matter is that they serve only one true purpose in the lens of history: to retrieve secret information for their employer.

The newest threat to classified information is a very recent phenomenon stemming from a relatively new concept of “freedom of information”. Societies with an unprecedented level of individual freedoms have produced individuals or groups who have interpreted freedom of information to mean “access to any and all information, whenever, wherever, regardless of whether it is useful to me or may hurt my country”. After abuses by US soldiers at the Iraqi prison in Abu Ghraib came to light, various groups began demanding the classified information obtained by interrogation of prisoners (Davidson, 2004). However, no laws in any modern industrialized country have ever been interpreted to give such unfettered access, and access was denied. To the contrary, there are many precedents wherein courts uphold the government’s need for classification of information. In the federal case “Snepp v United States”, the ruling states,...

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