All who hold clearances know instinctively about second order effects. We know that actions taken have consequences. We know we must consider second and third order consequences whenever we deal with classified information or items.

Consider the consequences, only recently revealed, of not doing so in that long ago war in Vietnam. General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in that country during the Vietnam War during the 1960s, would sometimes give briefings to newsmen. Then, of course, he would answer some questions only ‘on background’.  This allowed the reporters to ask more detailed questions to get a context for some fact he’d just provided. This background information meant they would protect the sources and methods of receipt of that data. They then would send back to their American offices a news story, with sufficient information to let readers understand. This was good. It kept a democratic people informed. Of course, due to the standard practices of professional journalism, it assured the source and methods of the information remained well protected. Cognizant news reporters and journalists knew how to get a clear story, but not betray sensitive information as a consequence. They carefully separated open information from ‘background’ material, and labeled the latter confidential.

Pham Xuan An wrote for Time Magazine, but was secretly a Communist spy during the Vietnam War. Erudite, witty, and insightful, he was said to be a pleasure to deal with. Ideologically motivated, he worked in as a clandestine agent to destroy us. After every press briefing, he read all the compartmented notes ‘on background’. They were in Hanoi for the Communists to read in only days. No one thought to be concerned about second or third level consequences. One reporter in later years acknowledged he always wondered why Pham would carefully read the material which should have been denied him. This went on for years.

Another example comes from the American automotive industry who was anxious to get German sales in the 1930s. No one cared to check on the ultimate destination of vehicle components. Alfred P. Sloan, the longtime GM chairman before World War II, explained his philosophy: “An international business operating throughout the world should conduct its operations in strictly business terms, without regard to the political beliefs of its management, or the political beliefs of the countries in which it is operating.”  So Sloan spoke of his company’s dealings with Hitler. One of Sloan’s men, James Mooney  “was involved in the partial conversion of the principal GM automobile plant at Rüsselsheim, Germany, to production of engines and other parts for the Junker ‘Wunderbomber,’ a key weapon in the German air force.” Of course, this is the same Luftwaffe bomber that would almost level parts of Rotterdam, Guernica, Warsaw and London in just a few years later.

Suppliers: Understand Every Step of the Product and Process

No one wins when you forget to control the whole delivery system. If your classified component is, let’s say, a computer, do you know where the parts for it originated? Have you a means of checking? What if they contain ‘back doors’  where they can insert malware? This could close your computer down when critically needed. What about all those years of work put into your product then? Or how about knowing what happens when you send something abroad, or even to a reputed American destination? Who is there? Are they authorized to receive your service or material piece of hardware?

These are issues you must know to properly execute your classified duties. You aren’t alone. Whole federal agencies stand ready to assist. Contact your government officials authorized to advise on your programs. They can check on the validity of those who request your materials. They can verify that the ultimate destination of your computer is Michigan, not Moscow.

The question isn’t whether our adversaries are continually after our information, but which ones will be used to be successful. Care must be kept at every step in the supply chain, and around every piece of classified information.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.