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Stuffing the genie back in the bottle

Boy, there are days when the Boston Globe is just stuck on stupid. Today is one of those days.

This time, they are weighing in on the current brouhaha between the Bush administration and the American Civil Liberties Union. It seems that someone got their hands on a classified document and e-mailed it to the ACLU, and the Bush administration wants it back. So they have gotten a grand jury to issue a subpoena for the document -- and all copies they might have made.

The story appears to be this: on October 23, 2006, some unknown person e-mailed a classified FBI document (dated December 2005) to the ACLU. The Bush administration found out they had it, and went to a judge to get an order for its return -- and any and all copies.

I'm trying to understand the ACLU's position. They say they have no liability for their possession of classified information, and I'll grant them that. They also say that they cannot disclose the contents of the document, and I think that's also reasonable. But they also won't return it. They describe the document as "only mildly embarrassing" to the Bush administration, but won't go into further details.

So, just what is the ACLU's plan here? They have it. They say they can't discuss the contents, which would tend to mean they don't intend to publish or release it. So it looks like it'll stay mostly secret.

But they won't give it back, either. Apparently, they believe that they are the rightful guardians of classified materials, eminently trustworthy to keep secret matters secret. That kind of flies in the face of their normal philosophy, that most classified materials should be free. It also establishes a precedent that I don't like: that a private organization, utterly unaccountable to anyone, can take upon itself the prerogatives of the legal government in the matter of deciding what information will and will not be kept secret -- and cannot be challenged or questioned.

So, if they're not going to publish it (yet) or give it back, what do they plan to do with it? Lock it up in their filing cabinet? Take it out every now and then and bask in the glow of holding a secret document that the Bush administration wants back?

The cynic in me says they want to just sit on it, reminding everyone of just what they have until the Bush administration finally decided to declassify it themselves to disarm the ACLU or they leak it out in drips and drabs -- the worst part first, much like several other documents -- to suit their political ends.

I enjoy playing devil's advocate (and that phrase seems especially appropriate, when dealing with the ACLU), but for the life of me I can't grasp the theory behind the ACLU's actions.

Comments (14)

They also say that they ... (Below threshold)

They also say that they cannot disclose the contents of the document...

They say they can't discuss the contents, which would tend to mean they don't intend to publish or release it. So it looks like it'll stay mostly secret.

Sh'yeah! Right! They're probably just waiting until the heat dies down so they can disclose the document's contents through a third-party (and then play all innocent).

2008?... (Below threshold)


I'm not sure what the probl... (Below threshold)
nogo postal:

I'm not sure what the problem is? ...some source provided them with a document. That person, rightly or wrongly supplied it because of a moral dilemma. The ACLU is not publishing it because of questions of source or because of classified sensitivity.
It appears they are being responsible.

For those that have an emotional or intellectual reaction to the ACLU...may I suggest you become familar or revisit HUAC.

How exactly is this not<... (Below threshold)

How exactly is this not equatable to receiving stolen property? Even if the ACLU didn't do anything wrong, they have no right to keep the document because they don't own it.

Silly ACLU, go play in traffic.

I think that the ACLU is at... (Below threshold)

I think that the ACLU is attempting to set a precedent here to make it easier for leakers to spill the beans at little or no peril to either the leaker or the recipient organiziation(s). Whether they set it up to begin with I don't know and will not speculate. However, they find themself in a position to essentially rewrite several aspects of the classification process if they can convince a judge that the mere receipt and further non-release of a classfied document is the same as "no harm, no foul". Imagine how many more classified leaks would occur if they did not have to give back the document or have to face prosecution for simply finding it in their possession?


Why would anyone have an em... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

Why would anyone have an emotional or intellectual reaction to the Athiest Communist Leftists Union?

They support any cause as long as it's socially regressive.

1. The document does not B... (Below threshold)

1. The document does not BELONG to the ACLU.
2. The document DOES belong to the FBI.
3. The document is STOLEN.
4. The document is CLASSIFIED.

Having the moral clarity to do the right thing, if you're the ACLU - IMPOSSIBLE.

Believe it or not, the U.S. government has the absolute right to classify some documents and it has nothing to do with the House Un-American Activities Committee! Believe me, anything done by HUAC is small change compared to the ACLU anyway. They have become a completely anti-American and subversive organization whose only desire is to remove sanity from our nation's public discourse. When they aren't attempting to reinterpret the U.S. Constitution to guarantee freedom FROM religion.

The ACLU is an absolutely despicable organization. Founded by Marxists and still operating under that philosophy.

I think a simple raid by th... (Below threshold)

I think a simple raid by the FBI to recover stolen FEDERAL property would set the matter straight. The FBI would have to seize all documents at the ACLU in order to make sure they got the right one. Then when the ACLU asked for them back the FMI could say that they promise not to publish them or discuss them as they are only mildly embarrassing to the ACLU.

Yes, it is Tit for Tat. Be fun to watch too.

Well, as I wrote these thou... (Below threshold)

Well, as I wrote these thoughts down it appears that Joel has stolen a bit of my thunder but, in the wish to participate nonetheless I'll just go ahead and share my views.

I don't know why you're willing to "grant them that" Jay, regarding the ACLU in possession of classified government documents. As soon as they understood what they were being provided with, they assumed liability.

If an acquaintance steals stereo equipment and provides me with a good amp and some nice Bose speakers I suppose I might now be able to avail myself of the ACLU's logic so that I could keep them and thereby improve the sound around here.

But, all that aside, I have grown weary of this trend of hostile groups getting their hands on such restricted papers and instead of being slammed by the law as they deserve they seem to have been given a free pass with little if any heat for the their illegal activity. Felons are supposed to get their just desserts for breaking laws, but not, it is becoming very apparent, when it comes to this nation's vital secrets which have been decided on by a higher authority than the ACLU or the NYT.

As to what the ACLU plans on doing with the document, the thought occurs to me that perhaps, in light of all the document "sharing" that's been going on for some time without any repercussion to the ones who steal them nor to the ones who publish them, in light of all this, the ACLU may want to run a test case through the courts with the hope of keeping it that way.

Perhaps they've caught a prescient sense of the hammer coming down and solicited the document to begin with so that they'd have something to work with. If that is the case, doubtlessly the contents will soon be out and about as the leaking of said document would be the "point" the ACLU would want to make so that they could then defend their action and establish precedent.


Maybe the FBI wants it back... (Below threshold)

Maybe the FBI wants it back so they can check the fax # it came from, one step closer to the leaker?

Lord-oh-Mighty, these idiot... (Below threshold)

Lord-oh-Mighty, these idiots are totally out of control! There is no way they will be able to keep those documents under control in a manner similar to our intelligence or defense agencies. Even if the ACLU leadership plans on keeping those documents secret, some holier-than-thou pacifist-socialist-pinko ACLU office worker or scum-ball lawyer will make copies and distribute. It boils done to whether or not our Federal Govt is allowed to keep certain things secret from the citizenry. Obviously the ACLU thinks not. We need these people convicted and tossed in jail - period.

So this is data from the FB... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

So this is data from the FBI, which means it probably concerns a criminal investigation or sealed indictment. The interesting bit about this is, judges seal documents and issue gag orders all the time, and I'm sure that if one did so, the ACLU would be more than happy to comply. But apparently they have decided that only the judicial branch has the authority to enforce law in America.

It would be a lot more saf... (Below threshold)

It would be a lot more safe in the USA if all members of the ACLU were hung from the nearest tree.

God bless the ACLU (even if... (Below threshold)

God bless the ACLU (even if they do sometimes have to defend the KKK and Rush, just to defend all of us).






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