from Michael F Martin.com:
Growing up an intelligence brat travelling the world for fifteen years made classified a daily word. I knew my parents worked for a classified organization. It was so classified that I knew it was linked to NSA, but didn’t know its name until I was in my twenties. There were questions I could ask that I knew they would not answer. At the same time, they tried to make me understand their world without crossing a line. That kept raising the same question repeatedly in my mind. Classified, why are there so many secrets?
It is a tough question to analyse. Now in my forties I think I have a far better grasp on the answer. Some things are classified to protect identities and sources of information. Others are classified to be stored ammunition against an enemy for future use.
Then others are classified to keep our government or an allied government from being embarrassed because of incompetence. More are classified to hide the outright illegal and sometimes heinous actions approved by our government.
As a kid I learned an important skill, shut up and listen. At the embassy’s sports club, at parties, softball, and barbecues, I learned to be the fly on the wall. Kids were natural background to their parents. When I remained quiet and listened, I became unnoticed and adults talked shop. That gave me information about what was going on in the world around me. I got bits and pieces, and I put together pictures from those pieces. This made me know the nature of classified information.
It didn’t take me long to understand the need to protect identity. My parents worked under a cover. Foreign governments such as the USSR and East Germany knew they worked in intelligence, but they didn’t have the full picture. When Stasi documents were shown on CNN after the fall of East Germany, it showed the Stasi had good but inaccurate information. They had a list of personal for my dad’s office in Liberia. They had the players right, but had the order of rank wrong.
Although enemy governments knew who the spies were in the embassies, we have the same information on their agents. There is an uneasy collaboration between enemies not to share each others identities. If one breaks the trust, then the other will reciprocate. When this happens, you see the host country declare a diplomat persona non grata (PNGed). Most often the diplomat being ejected from the host country is an intelligence agent under diplomatic cover who broke the unspoken rules in the international spy game.
The reason governments are complicit in this game of secrecy is to protect their own intelligence operatives. When a cover is broken to the public, it is like shining a spotlight on the operative. Terrorists target intelligence operatives and their families like a bonus prize. Journalists descend like vultures on a carcass to hopefully break news and broadcast their location. Activists will appear making their lives a living hell. As a recent reminder, a blown cover can get you killed like the nuclear scientist in Iran. For this reason the identities of intelligence agents are classified for protection.
I witnessed a good example of blown cover while in Liberia. There was a general who decided to try to assassinate President Samuel Doe. He hosed the armored presidential limousine with an automatic weapon and failed to kill Doe. In a panic to escape, the general showed up at the door of an undercover CIA NOC (Non-Official Cover) to ask for money. This blew the NOC’s cover and President Doe issued an arrest order for the NOC. President Doe immediately suspected the CIA was involved in the assassination attempt.
The CIA station chief recieved word of the arrest order and the NOC was brought into the American Embassy’s protection. At the time I knew something was going on. We lived on a housing compound on the St. Paul River just outside of Monrovia. My dad fueled the boat and filled the extra gas cans. Doe locked down the capital and a strict curfew was set each night. I got several “coup” days off of school. I later learned the NOC was hidden in our neighbor’s home and if we could get him out of country by plane, he would be smuggled out to Sierra Leon by boat.
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