In what must be one of the very last national security-related posts to be filled in the Obama Administration, national security lawyer and former CIA officer Mark A. Bradley was named as the next director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is responsible for oversight of the national security secrecy system government-wide.
He was selected by Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero (ISOO is housed at the National Archives) and his appointment was approved last week by President Obama (the ISOO director reports to the President).
Mr. Bradley is an intriguing choice for ISOO director, since he is one of a very small group of individuals who have engaged with government secrecy policy both as an outsider-critic and as an insider-defender.
“We have a broken system that is manufacturing way too many secrets,” he told the Wall Street Journal late in the Clinton Administration (“Case of Lost-and-Found Disk Drives Demonstrates Weakness of U.S. Systems for Protecting Secrets” by Neil King, July 5, 2000).
More recently, however, he has been the voice of the secrecy system itself, defending the government from Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, the New York Times, EPIC, Judicial Watch, and others. He did not simply represent the government’s position. Rather, as a Top Secret original classification authority at the Department of Justice National Security Division, he actually made many of the decisions to retain the classification of information that was sought by FOIA requesters in those cases.
If it was a mistake to classify the collection of Americans’ telephone metadata records by the National Security Agency (under the “215” program), then Mr. Bradley bears a slice of responsibility for that decision.
In 2013, about two months before the metadata collection program was publicly disclosed (in The Guardian) by Edward Snowden, Mr. Bradley told a court that a request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for information about the program must be denied.
“The withheld material contains specific descriptions of the manner and means by which the United States Government acquires tangible things for certain authorized investigations pursuant to Section 215,” Mr. Bradley wrote in an April 2013 declaration. “Disclosure of this information would provide our adversaries and foreign intelligence targets with insight into the United States Government’s foreign intelligence collection capabilities, which in turn could be used to develop the means to degrade and evade those collection capabilities.”
In retrospect, this proved to be a narrow and incomplete assessment of the issue. While the 215 program information was indeed properly classified under the terms of the executive order, it should have been released anyway. That, at least, was the conclusion that was ultimately reached — long after the question was moot — by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will,” DNI Clapper told Eli Lake of the Daily Beast in 2014. “Had we been transparent about this from the outset… we wouldn’t have had the problem we had.”
Importantly for his ISOO role, Mr. Bradley is not “just” a former intelligence officer and national security lawyer. He is also an historian who has done archival research and worked with declassified records to produce a well-regarded volume called A Very Principled Boy: The Life of Duncan Lee, Red Spy and Cold Warrior (Basic Books, 2014). So he will bring multiple relevant dimensions of expertise to his new responsibilities at ISOO.
Mr. Bradley’s tenure as ISOO director will begin on December 25. The previous ISOO director, John P. Fitzpatrick, left last January to join the National Security Council staff. William A. Cira has been serving as acting director in the interim.
Among his many other responsibilities, the ISOO director serves as the Executive Secretary of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an official advisory body. The PIDB has scheduled a public meeting at the National Archives on December 8 “to discuss recommendations for improved transparency and open government for the new Presidential Administration.”
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said that it will hold a hearing on December 7 to “examine overclassification and other failures of the classification system.”