Done Either to Hide an Embarrassment or to Politicize Official Actions
A record produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in response to a 2020 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by PPSA indicates that the White House in 2018 had directed the ODNI to classify an action to prevent embarrassment or stop disclosure of something official that had been done for political purposes.
This is the tantalizing glimpse into one of two heavily redacted ODNI records produced by that agency in response to a FOIA request filed by PPSA seeking documents from a wide range of agencies that contain references to Executive Order 13526. That order, issued by President Obama, was meant to streamline government classification of documents.
The action at the heart of this memo is redacted. But the fact that ODNI disclosed this record in response to a FOIA request about challenges to classification decisions strongly suggests that the action did involve classification. Under EO 13526, officials are forbidden from classifying documents to prevent embarrassment or to hide an error. The redacted, partially declassified Top Secret document sent by an investigative analyst to the Assistant Inspector General for Investigations at ODNI confirms that a confidential complaint had centered around an act intended to “prevent embarrassment and for political purposes.”
The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community decided not to conduct its own investigation, purportedly because this matter fell outside of its purview to investigate “waste, fraud and abuse.” It did refer the complaint to two ODNI offices, the Office of Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Transparency, and the Office of Analytic Integrity and Standards Group.
Civil libertarians and journalists should dig into the remaining questions: Who in the White House issued this request? What was the act itself and what was the classification meant to hide? And finally, what was the ultimate disposition of this investigation?
PPSA will report any new revelations in our inquiry.