POSTSCRIPT / September 18, 2005 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Yes, Erap has shown me data that may be classified

AM NOW FREE: It is true, as former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada has disclosed to the press, that he had shown me papers that might be linked later to a Federal Bureau of Investigation analyst accused of passing classified documents to some Filipino officials.

Normally, when we newsmen are pressed to identify the sources of confidential information cited in our reports, we refuse to name them. It is now the reverse in the case of Erap — here is the source disclosing to whom he gave the information!

With Erap himself breaking the confidentiality of his having shared sensitive information with me, I now consider myself free to disclose the substance — or even the full text — of those documents.

If and when I feel like doing it.

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READING SECRETS: I understand Erap’s situation. Having been detained in his resthouse in Tanay with a court order not to hold press conferences or allow media interviews, the man hungers for reports of what goes on outside the walls of his villa.

As he said, somebody like him who has been forced into reclusion would read anything, even pinagbalutan ng tinapa (paper wrapper of smoked fish).

I can imagine that if documents came his way touching on the US government assessment of the Philippine situation, including how top American officials regard President Gloria Arroyo and her administration, he would accept and read them.

That the documents are restricted, or falsified!, is immaterial. The only way to evaluate them is to read them.

If a folder marked TOP SECRET in bold red is slipped to me, I will want to read its content. I am sure it is the same with every normal human, including Erap. In fact, the restriction makes it even more tempting.

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BACKGROUND: Here is a recap for those who came in just now. I have noticed that most Filipinos do not read newspapers anymore.

The FBI arrested Sept. 10 on espionage charges Michael Ray Aquino, one of the key lieutenants of Sen. Panfilo Lacson when he was PNP chief and his co-accused in the massacre of Kuratong Baleleng gang members. Aquino and Cesar Mancao, another key man of Lacson, disappeared after they were linked to the murder of publicist Salvador “Bubby” Dacer and his driver in November 2000.

The FBI arrested separately Leandro Aragoncillo, A Fil-American working as an FBI intelligence analyst. He reportedly had passed to Aquino more than 100 classified documents, 37 of them marked “Secret.” Some documents reportedly were sent also to some Filipino officials.

Aquino reportedly paid Aragoncillo for information he supplied, but he denied having done this.

Lacson has stepped forward to say he had been in touch with Aquino in the States (although the senator had been saying all the time he did not know where Aquino was) and that he had received some documents from him.

NBI Director Reynaldo Wycoco said that the FBI would soon charge three Filipino officials with conspiracy. One of them is a “former national-level public official,” and the other two are “current national-level public officials.”

* * *

BASIC ORDER: Since we are talking of documents classified by US authorities, I looked for Executive Order 12958 on Classified National Security Information issued on April 17, 1995.

The explanatory note says: “This order prescribes a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information. Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government. Also, our nation’s progress depends on the free flow of information.

“Nevertheless, throughout our history, the national interest has required that certain information be maintained in confidence in order to protect our citizens, our democratic institutions, and our participation within the community of nations. Protecting information critical to our nation’s security remains a priority.”

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CLASSIFICATIONS: Executive Order 12958 of the US president classifies sensitive information into three levels:

  1. Top Secret — applies to information whose unauthorized disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.
  2. Secret — applies to information whose unauthorized disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.
  3. Confidential — applies to information whose the unauthorized disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.

If there is significant doubt about the appropriate level of classification, it shall be classified at the lower level.

* * *

R.P. VERSION: How is it done over here? We also use the three categories of Top Secret, Secret and Confidential, but have added Restricted.

Top Secret — TOP SECRET is printed in red on the cover. Papers covered are usually on very sensitive state matters whose disclosure could cause even the collapse of governments, or whose content may be very damaging to the military command or the nation. An example would be data on weapons being developed.

Secret — SECRET is also printed in red on its face, plus a red border around the edge of the cover. Unauthorized disclosure would also be damaging to the nation or the unit concerned but to an extent lower than that of Top Secret materials. Tactical matters usually fall under this category.

Confidential — CONFIDENTIAL is printed in blue on the cover. Disclosure of contents may prejudice a military operation.

Restricted — The word is printed on the cover in green. I have observed that many innocuous matters have been carelessly thrown into such “restricted” folders.

The content may appear harmless to the uninformed, but the violation involved is not dependent on the content but on the act of disclosing classified matters. The contents may consist of press clippings, but if they are classified, their unauthorized disclosure is a violation.

* * *

WHO CLASSIFIES?: Who decides what classification to give certain information?

Executive Order 12958 says that the authority to classify information originally may be exercised only by the President, agency heads and officials designated by the President in the Federal Register, or US government officials delegated this authority under the EO.

Delegated authority may not be redelegated. Each delegation shall identify the official by name or position title.

Officials authorized in writing to classify information at a specified level are also authorized to classify information at their lower level.

Exceptional cases. When an employee, contractor, licensee, certificate holder, or grantee of an agency that does not have original classification authority originates information believed by that person to require classification, the information shall be protected in a manner consistent with EO 12958 and its implementing directives. The information shall be transmitted promptly to the agency that has appropriate interest and classification authority, and that agency shall decide within 30 days whether to classify this information.

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TERMS DEFINED: Under EO 12958, “National security” means the national defense or foreign relations of the United States.

“Information” means any knowledge that can be communicated or documentary material, regardless of its physical form or characteristics, that is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the US government. “Control” means the authority of the agency that originates information, or its successor in function, to regulate access to the information.

“Classified national security information” (or “classified information” for short) means information that has been determined pursuant to EO 12958 or any predecessor order to require protection against unauthorized disclosure and is marked to indicate its classified status when in documentary form.

“Unauthorized disclosure” means a communication or physical transfer of classified information to an unauthorized recipient.

“Damage to the national security” means harm to the national defense or foreign relations of the US from the unauthorized disclosure of information, to include the sensitivity, value, and utility of that information.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 18, 2005)

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