When members of the intelligence community brief Congress on highly classified programs, they’re incentivized to do so in a way that provides the necessary amount of detail to satisfy legal and administrative requirements, and not a shred more. Since most members of the intelligence committees aren’t experts, an imbalance is built into the system. The briefers will use technical language, knowing that members often can’t share with their staffs enough information to develop follow-up questions. Members know this and tend to be the alert for weasel words or any hints or indications that there are depths to the particular program that might not be visible in a briefing. The less trust there is between institutions, the more games are played in the briefings. These games have become endemic, which for oversight is troubling. The less trust we have in government, the more likely it is for freelancers and hobbyists, people who traffic in classified information that is expressly often pulled from its context, to decide whether to publish secrets. Don’t blame this on the lone wolves. Blame it on the gatekeepers for failing to maintain credibility.

* Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady, Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry