Sour Grapes
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The secrecy game

In general, governments go way overboard in terms of keeping secrets. I will grant that there are certain secrets that must be kept. But I have the impression that 99+% of the secrets the U.S. government keeps are non-essential and often serve the distinctly anti-democratic purpose of covering up embarrassing or illegal acts by those in power.

Nonetheless, I do acknowledge that the keeping of secrets is a dangerous game. It's not all that unusual to read of people exposing what was assumed to be secret. There was a hilarious example recently where [the FBI?] used Microsoft Word background coloring to hide certain words. They made copies of the Word document available and all one had to do to see the blotted-out words was change the highlighting, a trivially easy thing to do.

The Register ("biting the hand that feeds IT") published another recent example two Thursdays ago under the title "Student uncovers US military secrets":

The first task is to identify the font, and font size the missing word was written in. Once that is done, the dictionary search begins for words that fit the space, plus or minus three pixels, Naccache explained.

This process yielded 1,530 possibilities for word blanked out of a sentence in the Bush memo. Then, the text anaysis routine checks for words that would make sense in English. The sentence was: "An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told an XXXXXXXX service at the same time that Bin Ladin was planning to exploit the operative's access to the US to mount a terrorist strike." Just 346 words remained on the list at this stage.

The next stage is to involve the brain of the researcher. This eliminated all but seven words: Ugandan, Ukrainian, Egyptian, uninvited, incursive, indebted and unofficial. Naccache plumped for Egyptian, in this case.

Whelan subjected the helicopter memo to the same scrutiny, and the results suggested South Korea was the most likely anonymous supplier of helicopter knowledge to Iraq.

Although the technique is no good for tackling larger sections of text, it does show that officials need to be more careful with their sensitive documents. Naccache argues that the most important conclusion of this work "is that censoring text by blotting out words and re-scanning is not a secure practice".

I am tr�s amus� by such occurrences. You will be happy to know that, in the end,

intelligence experts may consider changing procedures

[my emphasis].

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