What I Can And Can’t Talk About

Posted By on October 21, 2016

This week we experienced the final Presidential Debate of the 2016 election. It was a rough program to watch. The back and forth. The charges and counter charges. But most telling was that once again Hillary Clinton showed her lack of ability to keep government and military secrets. This has been one of the biggest controversies coming out of the debate.

The politically biased and highly inaccurate Snopes.com in a posting entitled, “Loose Nukes.” Ironically, the liberal author, one with little to no knowledge of information classification stated:

Most of the people tweeting that Clinton had “leaked” classified information by mentioning this window cited no specific information substantiating that to be true (or explaining how they themselves could know and openly discuss information that was supposedly classified).

This is essentially correct. Why? Because those of us who have any specific knowledge on the subject are prohibited from talking about it.

Over 3o years ago I was assigned to a nuclear missile submarine in the US Navy’s Submarine Force. My first assignment after Boot Camp was to Basic Enlisted Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut. There, a mere three months into my enlistment, I was introduced to classified material, and what I could and couldn’t say. For examples:

  • I cannot tell you how deep a submarine can actually dive.
  • I cannot tell you how fast a submarine can go.
  • I cannot tell you exact dates and locations of a specific submarine.
  • I cannot tell you specific operating parameters of almost all submarine operations.
  • I cannot tell you how many weapons the submarine actually carried.
  • I can tell you generalities, within certain established limits. (and some of these have changed since I was discharged, but I still adhere to those drilled into my memory)

After Sub School, I was sent to basic technical, then advanced technical schools. In my advanced technical school, called “C” School, I was introduced to even higher levels of classified information, those associated specifically with my job. I would eventually work on the systems associated with the Poseidon Weapons System. Once, again, I was told what I could and couldn’t talk about:

  • No talking about specific capabilities of the Poseidon missile.
  • No talking about the specifics of procedures and processes.
  • No talking about specifics of target assignments.
  • No specifics of actual range, or accuracy of the missile.
  • No talking about the specifics of how long it took to do anything related to the missile.
  • Yes, again, I can talk about generalities.

Then, it was on to the fleet and “my” boat. There I got to actually handle various classified documents of varying levels, from Confidential all the way to… Well, let’s just say some of the stuff was very highly classified. Additionally, I was assigned the collateral duty of maintaining and cataloging my divisions documentation and publications.

Finally, while I was being processed for discharge I was told basic points about how long it would take the classified information I possessed in my mind to become “declassified.” In most cases, I would never be able to share what I knew with anyone for the rest of my life.

There have been times during the subsequent years when I have been involved in conversations with friends, family, and co-workers, and they wanted to talk about the submarine or the missiles. Occasionally, someone mentioned reading something in Popular Mechanics, or Popular Science, and they brought up items which I could not talk about. I either attempted to change the subject, or I politely excused myself from the conversation. To this day I can state that I have never verbalized any information which was classified during my enlistment in the Navy.

Finally, I can state, that if I were to make a statement similar to that spoken by Hillary Clinton during the debate, I could be arrested, convicted, and spend time in jail for disclosing classified information. Also, without reservation, from my knowledge I can aver that what she said was classified, and I don’t care if you can read it somewhere else. I know the timeframes associated with the operations of the submarine I was on in response to directives from the President, but you will never hear the exact times, or even something close to the exact time, come out of my mouth. EVER! It’s classified.

Oh, and by the way, my submarine no longer exists, and the Poseidon missile system was taken out of service some time ago. But, secrets are secret.

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