Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Frances Levy's FBI File: Thoughts on Declassification

The Washington Post has an interesting - and rather troubling - story about how the FBI interfered in the life of Frances Levy, back in 1945, and she never knew but we now do. Levy, who at the time went by the name Curtis, was a young typist in the Treasury Department, and apparently there was an opening at the White House, but for that she needed higher security clearance. The FBI seems to have decided she was a communist and didn't let her into the WH. And how do we know all this? Because an archivist at the Truman Library is declassifying those sort of files and found Ms. Curtis' blocked request and traced the story.

Frances Levy died in 1995, and her children vehemently deny she could have been a communist or any other sort of danger to her country.

It's more than a simple human-interest sort of tale, because of the complexity of the issues underlying it. Clearly, a country needs to have the mechanisms to check the identities of citizens who need to come into contact with sensitive and classified materials. (We're assuming everyone understands why there must be classified materials to begin with.) And also, it's not hard to see why the individuals being vetted can't see the information being collected about them, or at least some of it. Sadly, it's also inevitable, and probably even desirable, that the vetters will sometimes be overcautious. Better that then not cautious enough.

But what happens when the vetting agency disrupts the life or career of an ordinary citizen without real justification, only imagined justification? Who vets the vetters? What happens when the person being impacted doesn't even know it's happening, and thus never has the opportunity for their day in court?

There's no obvious method to make these quandaries go away. And yes, we're linking to an American story which has been published there, because we've got the same issues here.

1 comment:

  1. You are thinking of Margalit Har-Shefi, perhaps?