Watching the criminations and re-crimination unfold around the most recent ‘leaked’ document puts into some stark perspective the immense responsibility cleared professionals accept on behalf of the nation and, in some likely cases, the world. It also puts in stark perspective the incalculably powerful potential energy cleared professionals keep in check. It’s why it’s called sensitive information, I suppose.

Consider this—cleared professionals are the caretakers of what could be inestimably volatile information. The kind of information that, mishandled, can explode like nitroglycerin in the face of Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius. It’s sensitive! Carelessly proffered, it can destroy the reputation of a private citizen. It can destroy the reputation of an organization. It can ruin the highest public official. It can collapse an economy. It can cause a constitutional crisis. It can spark a war. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be true, verified, or even verifiable information.


Hollywood has many times enticed its audiences with the close-up shot of the Air Force officer’s hand on the key that launches a nuclear strike . . . cancelled at the utterly last moment. As the story goes, the public never hears about that too-close call, thankfully since the public, the economy, the government couldn’t function if it really knew how close to holocaust the world comes every day.

Of course that’s fiction. But it’s not fiction that cleared professionals are expected to keep the cover on that launch switch. In fact, keep the key to the cover to the launch switch locked in the safe. In fact, keep the code to the safe locked in another safe altogether. That’s how sensitive the information cleared professionals handle can be. That’s a fact.


All that’s why, or at least one reason why, the standards for getting that clearance are so high. It’s why the analysis cleared professionals perform, the questions they ask, the trails they follow to sources and sources’ sources is both so important and so incredibly difficult. It’s why great, truly professional intelligence analysts are more careful about word choice than New York lawyers.

One slip, one misstep, and kablooeeee!



And it’s why their integrity has to be unimpeachable, and as soon as it’s not, they’re done. Imagine the position in which people like Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers find themselves—not just this morning, but, well, perhaps more often than the public would care to know. Ultimately, they have to make the call under the kind of pressure few can imagine. Call it one way, you start a war. Call it another way, you leave America exposed. Call it another way, you’re doing it for political purposes. Call it another way . . . . There’s no end to it. Ultimately, they have to call it like they see it, exactly like they see it, perhaps with remorse and perhaps with apologies, but with absolutely no reservation and no concern for personal or professional gain or loss.

And that’s where the integrity has to come in, and don’t be misled into thinking that the integrity has to reside at the top with Clapper, Comey, Brennan, and Rogers, among others. The integrity has to start at the bottom and flow through the ranks to the top because leading to the decision at the top are innumerable decisions before the question gets to the top. And every one of the cleared professionals have to call it like they see it, exactly like they see it, perhaps with remorse and perhaps with apologies, but with absolutely no reservation and no concern for personal or professional gain or loss.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.