Secrecy News

Carter Page: Corruption Can Erode Secrecy Authority

Corruption in the executive branch diminishes the ability of federal agencies to preserve secrecy, wrote a then-21 year old named Carter Page in 1993 when he was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. See Balancing Congressional Needs for Classified Information: A Case Study of the Strategic Defense Initiative by Carter W. Page, May 17, 1993.

More than two and a half decades later, Page’s own experience as an improper target of government surveillance tends to prove his thesis.

A series of FBI applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) identified Page, a former Trump adviser who had contacts with Russian government officials, as a purported agent of a foreign power. Those FBI applications were declassified and disclosed last year — the first time such documents had ever been made public — following indications that they were based on erroneous claims. Corruption, as Page had written, led to an erosion of longstanding secrecy practices.

Last week, the Department of Justice Inspector General confirmed that the Page surveillance applications were indeed defective.

“We identified at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications,” wrote Inspector General Michael Horowitz. The omissions included exculpatory information concerning Page that had been improperly altered by an FBI attorney.

The fact that “so many basic and fundamental errors were made” in the Carter Page case has called into question the management of the entire FISA process, Inspector General Horowitz wrote, casting a new spotlight on FISA policy and practice.

“Secrecy is an important element of power,” wrote the young midshipman Page in his 1993 report on congressional access to classified information. Official secrecy practices, he contended, are determined more by political currents than through rational or legal argumentation.

“While the sheer forces of law may be felt to some extent within this struggle, the final outcome is most often one which is based on politics,” he wrote.

“Corruption may decrease an executive’s claim to information,” he argued, particularly since “Congress is much less likely to request secret information from federal agencies which have proven themselves to run in a veracious [i.e. truthful] manner.”

Mr. Page said via email that his 1993 Naval Academy report was “inspired in significant part by prior work with Senator [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan,” whom he had served as an aide.