Intelligence: May 6, 2005


One interesting problem with classified electronic tools, notably computer based ones like photo analysis equipment and other systems, is that once anything is processed using this gear, the product of that work becomes classified. Even if its something innocuous. During tsunami relief operation earlier this year, helicopter crewmembers, personnel humping cargo, and medics delivering emergency care to the victims, often took pictures of the devastation using digital cameras or even cheap disposable cameras. 

Since folks back on the ship including intel people thought these pictures might be useful, the were often processed using classified equipment (which could easily enhance the images or correct the color). The pictures were also sometimes sent over classified networks (Admiral, the attached pictures illustrate the extent of the damage in Bandar Aceh). Any of these actions instantly turned the pictures into classified documents.

This meant that the pictures could not then be passed on to people who might find them useful, including Indonesian government officials, relief workers, journalists, and even officials of US government agencies, such as the State Department or the Agency for International Development. Nor could the people who took the pictures keep them, even if they were taken with private equipment. 

There are two morals to this story. First, a process is needed to permit rapid declassificaiton of pictures and other items that are themselves not essential to national security, and, second, be careful what you use to pretty up that digital picture of your kids first birthday, lest it end up Top Secret.


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