We’re living in a renaissance of information. Information is now so readily available online that one can even attain a legal degree online, no doubt something lawyers hate. But the fact is, if you’d like to know something, it does not take a monumental effort to learn about it via Google.

Governments don’t like its people to have such unmitigated access to information. ISIS makes villages burn books. The terrorist group Boko Haram shares its name with a phrase that means ‘Western education is a sin.’ One has to wonder: Is there a war, however subtle, being waged by our government against the flow of information in our society? Wikileaks and Edward Snowden think so. I do believe, wholeheartedly, that information compromising our national security or putting someone at risk shouldn’t be freely accessed.

How many SF86s were exposed in the OPM hack? They reveal every place someone has lived for up to 10 years, and the details of the people who can corroborate that. They reveal the names of friends, family, and former bosses. That’s sensitive for sure.  It’s beyond unacceptable that it was breached, and now that information is out there. You’ve only got one life and only one identity. Identity theft haunts people every day, as there are always those who are corrupt and seeking ways to exploit such information. There aren’t enough people to take them all down and there likely never will be.

But the real purpose of this article is to discuss the recent case of retired General James Cartwright.

General Cartwright and Stuxnet

Here is what the general said: “I knew I was not the source of the story, and I didn’t want to be blamed for the leak,” said Cartwright of his effort to mislead FBI agents in a statement released after he pleaded guilty on Monday. “My only goal in talking to the reporters was to protect American interests and lives.”

I suppose the takeaway is when approached by an officer of the law, don’t help him or her without a lawyer present or before speaking to one. I’ve been overwhelmed with reports from various media outlets that state the facts in this case. Retired General James Cartwright pleaded guilty and was sentenced as such. But, like everything, there’s got to be more to it. Right now, more than ever, we’ve been discussing disclosures and legal action. It’s even broken into our official campaign language.

NSA's PRISM: We’re Missing More Than Just Transparency

Read Next: NSA's PRISM: We’re Missing More Than Just Transparency

In this particular case, it’s related to an incredibly secret program referred to as “Stuxnet.” This is secret to the extent that I don’t even know if I want to write about it. But according to Wikipedia, not WikiLeaks, “Stuxnet is a malicious computer worm believed to be a jointly built American-Israeli cyberweapon,[1] although no organization or state has officially admitted responsibility for its creation. However, anonymous U.S. officials speaking to The Washington Post claimed the worm was developed during the Bush administration to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program with what would seem like a long series of unfortunate accidents.”

While we’re on the topic of classified information, here’s five myths published by The Washington Post about classified information.

  1. Information can be “classified,” even if no one has classified it.
  2. It’s easy to figure out whether information has been classified.
  3. Anything classified is sensitive.
  4. Any mishandling of classified information is illegal.
  5. Our classification system protects us from harm.

The article went on to discuss how there is a massive amount of classified information out there. It’s swirling around emails, in and out of offices, and most often, to and from colleagues verbally. If anything, things have become overclassified. Security folks will probably tell you that unclassified information can potentially do harm to national security. Cleared national security professionals live a life dedicated to national security. But with a cumbersome classified system and old enterprise systems, some inadvertently damage national security. Or it could be alleged and construed that way.

Back to Cartwright. When asked by investigators if he spoke to reporters about Stuxnet, he lied. He didn’t want to get in trouble and was asked a straightforward question. He probably thought it was not illegal to not tell the truth. Instead, he answered based on what he says is his knowledge that he isn’t the source of the leak. The implication is that the Obama administration, not Cartwright himself, leaked the information.

Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times article on the Cartwright case lending Cartwright’s perspective.

“It was wrong for me to mislead the FBI on Nov. 2, 2012, and I accept full responsibility for this,” Cartwright said. He added that his only goal in talking to reporters was ‘to protect American interests and lives.'”

Cartwright’s attorney, Gregory Craig, said in a statement that his client had spent “his entire life putting the national interest first.”

“That’s why he talked to the reporters in the first place — to protect American interests and lives in a story they had already written,” the statement said. “In his conversations with these two reporters, General Cartwright was engaged in a well-known and understood practice of attempting to save national secrets, not disclosing classified information.”

The plea agreement said that between January and June of 2012, Cartwright “provided and confirmed classified information” to Sanger. Cartwright also confirmed classified information in February 2012 to Klaidman, which was included in an article for Newsweek magazine, the agreement said.

Can the US intelligence community overcome its institutional roadblocks?

Read Next: Can the US intelligence community overcome its institutional roadblocks?

As he said, even after he pleaded guilty, he’s not the source of this information. So his lie wasn’t entirely false, I suppose. There again, I do not know the circumstances of his conversation with the federal investigators. I don’t know what was written in emails, either.

If you can’t lie, for whatever reason, because lying to an officer of the law in regards to classified information is illegal, could that spread into other law enforcement roles? What if a similar rule spread to our interactions with all officers of the law? If so, what’s the fail-safe to prove someone is lying other than catching them in the act with concrete proof? A polygraph isn’t the ultimate lie-catching calculator.

Classified information and the world has drastically changed since the inception of the Espionage Act. Maybe we should modify the system so that it’s more precise. We have perpetrators going without punishment while others do not.

Featured image courtesy of nytimes.com.