Last Wednesday, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) read brief excerpts from a classified U.S. State Department cable on the House floor. The cable was written in 1990 by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie and described her conversation with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein shortly prior to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. It was released January 1 by WikiLeaks.
Since the cable specified that its “entire text” is classified secret, this means that by reading a passage or two from the document, Rep. Paul was technically publicizing classified information and introducing it into the Congressional Record.
This action was not nearly comparable in significance or audacity to Sen. Mike Gravel reading the Pentagon Papers into the public record in 1971. It would hardly be noteworthy at all except for the contrast it presents with current congressional guidance to avoid the material released by WikiLeaks altogether. The Senate Office of Security, for example, has directed that Senate employees should not even visit the WikiLeaks website, much less circulate its contents.
Like other members of the House of Representatives, Rep. Paul has taken an oath (under House Rule XXIII, clause 13) that “I will not disclose any classified information received in the course of my service with the House of Representatives, except as authorized by the House of Representatives or in accordance with its Rules.”
Presumably, Rep. Paul could say that he did not receive the classified cable “in the course of my service with the House of Representatives” and that it is therefore outside the scope of his oath.
“The secrecy of the [Glaspie cable] was designed to hide the truth from the American people and keep our government from being embarrassed,” Rep. Paul said, assigning malicious intent to the classification of the document.
But since many unembarrassing and uninformative documents are also classified, a better explanation might be that the application of classification controls today is indiscriminately broad, and that classification status is not a reliable indicator of sensitivity.