Best Defense

The vexing dilemma of ‘inverse compartmentalization’ in intelligence

In the wake of all the loose talk about the bin Laden raid, a friend who is a veteran of U.S. intelligence work tells me of a counterintutive phenomenon in clandestine operations: The more sensitive a planned operation, the less secret it becomes. This, he explained, is because the more sensitive it is, the more ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of all the loose talk about the bin Laden raid, a friend who is a veteran of U.S. intelligence work tells me of a counterintutive phenomenon in clandestine operations: The more sensitive a planned operation, the less secret it becomes. This, he explained, is because the more sensitive it is, the more senior officials have to be read in to the matter, lest someone feel left out and blindsided when the headlines burst around them. “We called it the law of inverse compartmentalization,” he said.

Those little grasshoppers wishing to know more should read Stuart Herrington’s classic treatise on counterintelligence operations , Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher’s World.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola