Keeping the nation's deepest and darkest secrets is no easy job. Governments and military powers have created methods to keep sensitive information
locked down. Two such methods are Compartmentalization and Disinformation, in addition to standard classification systems.
First, let's review the standard classification process. This will detail the security process utilized by the United States.
The United States government classifies information according to the degree which the unauthorized disclosure would damage national security.
Having Top Secret clearance does not allow one to view all Top Secret documents. The user of the information must possess the clearance necessary for
the sensitivity of the information, as well as a need to know the information. For example, all US military pilots are required to obtain at least a
Secret clearance, but they may only access documents directly related to their orders. Secret information might have additional access controls that
could prevent someone with a Top Secret clearance from seeing it. For example, a document marked "SECRET//COMINT" (S-SI) would require that the
potential reader have a clearance of Secret or higher, but also have access to COMINT, an SCI control system.
There are 3 levels of security classification: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret.
Confidential: Information, if leaked, could potentially damage National Security.
Secret: Information, if leaked, could result in "serious damage" to National Security. Most info is secret.
Top Secret: Information, if leaked, would compromise National Security.
Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and Special Access Programs (SAP)
The terms "Sensitive Compartmented Information" (SCI) and "Special Access Program" (SAP) are widely misunderstood as classification levels or
Individuals with a legitimate need to know may not be able to function effectively without knowing certain Top Secret facts about their work.
However, granting all such individuals a blanket DoD clearance (often known as a "collateral" clearance) at the Top Secret level would be
undesirable, not to mention prohibitively expensive.
Personnel who require knowledge of SCI or SAP information fall into two general categories. There are individuals with need to know and
individuals with actual access. Access to classified information is not authorized by a favorable conclusion of a clearance eligibility status. Access
is only permitted to individuals after determining the individual has a need to know. Need-to-know is a determination that an individual requires
access to specific classified information in the performance of (or assist in the performance of) lawful and authorized government functions and
duties. To achieve selective separation of program information while still allowing full access to those working on the program, a separate
compartment, identified by a unique codeword, is created for the information. This entails establishing communication channels, data storage, and work
locations (SCIF — Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility), which are physically and logically separated not only from the unclassified world,
but from general Department of Defense classified channels as well. Thus established, all information generated within the compartment is classified
according to the general rules above. However, to emphasize that the information is compartmented, all documents are marked with both the
classification level and the codeword (and the caveat "Handle via Channels Only.", or "Handle via Jointly"
if the document contains material from multiple programs).
Embedded below is a link for the Department of Defense Guide to Marking Classified Documents, including Special Access Programs (SAP). It's a bit
dated, but its still interesting and gives insight into how official classified documents are marked and secured.
There have been times when the government has misused security classification for unscrupulous reasons.
-In the The Pentagon Papers case, a classified study was published revealing that four administrations had misled the American public about their
intentions in the Vietnam War
-Many conspiracy theories such as the JFK assassination theories suggest that the government has classified information as Top Secret that reveals the
involvement of agencies such as the CIA.
Now let's review Compartmentalization and how its utilized to keep sensitive information secret.
compartmentalization of information means to limit access to information to persons who directly need to know certain such information in order to
perform certain tasks.
The basis for compartmentalization is that if fewer people know the details of a mission or task, the risk or likelihood that such information
could be compromised or fall into the hands of the opposition is decreased. Hence, varying levels of clearance within organizations exist. Yet, even
if someone has the highest clearance, certain "eyes only" information may still be restricted to certain operators, even of lower rank. In
intelligence administration, officials believe it is useful to keep close watch on "sources and methods" information to prevent disclosure of people
and their activities, whose lives they may believe to be at risk if such information were publicly disclosed or fall into the hands of the
In May of 2008, former Military Intelligence Sergeant Adrienne Kinne, who had served for ten years, from 1994 to 2004, and was active in the Iraq war,
explained how compartmentalization worked to facilitate the wiretapping she participated in. She stated:
"When this was going on, I had absolutely no idea what was going on in the rest of the military intelligence, the rest of our government.
Everything is so compartmentalized that you don’t really know necessarily what the person next to you is doing, let alone in a different room in a
different building in a different location. And so, it really wasn’t until the New York Times piece came out about the NSA’s domestic wiretapping
that I really began to think about what we were doing and my mission and that we were collecting on Americans. And we were doing so for the flimsiest
Another example of compartmentalization was The Manhatten Project
Another epic example of the utilization of compartmentalization to keep secrets is The Manhatten Project. General Groves mastered the art of
compartmentalization. All residents were confined to the project area and surrounding town. Most lab facilities were compartmentalized with various
teams working on different project elements. Those who worked in the lab were forbidden to discuss any aspect of the project with friends or
relatives. Military security personnel guarded the grounds and monitored communications between research teams. Official communications outside of Los
Alamos, especially to the other Manhattan Project sites, were coded and enciphered. Mail was permitted, but heavily censored. Since the actual
location of the Los Alamos facility was secret, all residents used the clandestine address "Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico."