Friday, May 11, 2007

Bush administration calls 2003 memo 'sensitive'

Here is the beginning of my post.

Bush administration calls 2003 memo 'sensitive'

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration is accusing a fired air marshal of disseminating sensitive information, nearly four years after the officer leaked an embarrassing but routine memo on reducing hotel costs.

The administration argues that ex-marshal Robert MacLean, 37, who is trying to win his job back, should have known the unlabeled memo that he received on his unsecured cellphone was considered "sensitive security information."

MacLean, who admits he gave the memo to a reporter, counters there was no way to tell that air marshal officials would designate the cost-cutting plan years later as sensitive national security information. He was fired in April 2006.

The Transportation Security Administration's expert on sensitive materials, Andrew Colsky, who gave a deposition in the case, could not recall the "sensitive" designation applied retroactively to previously disclosed information.

MacLean is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in California, to rule that the leak was legal under protections granted whistle-blowers under federal law. After the appeals court rules, MacLean can resume his challenge to his dismissal before a personnel board.

The "sensitive security" classification applies to unclassified information of a sensitive nature, which could harm federal operations if publicly disseminated. It has existed for years but has been used more frequently since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

MacLean, who lives in Coto de Caza, Calif., acknowledges he gave a copy of the July 29, 2003, budget-cutting memo to a reporter. Once the memo became public, the air marshal program said it was a mistake and no flight assignments requiring overnight hotel stays were canceled.

"I felt the agency had gone out of control," MacLean said.

Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the Transportation Security Administration declined to comment. However, in a legal brief filed weeks ago, the department contended the memo was classified properly because it met TSA rules covering "sensitive security information" when it was issued.

Government lawyers cited TSA regulations that prohibit disclosure of "specific details of aviation security measures."

If the retroactive designation is upheld, lawyers say, it would instill new fears to those who want to release important information to the public.

Mark Zaid, a lawyer who represents whistle-blowers in national security cases, said, "This case just reeks of rotten eggs. I would say this is just the perfect example of retaliation for exercising First Amendment rights."
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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