09/07/2010 03:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Secrets Are Secrets

The latest Pentagon scandal has to do with children. John Cook reports:

DCIS investigators identified 264 Defense employees or contractors who had purchased child pornography online. Astonishingly, nine of those had "Top Secret Sensitive Compartmentalized Information" security clearances, meaning they had access to the nation's most sensitive secrets. All told, 76 of the individuals had secret or higher clearances.

What I find astonishing here is the word "astonishingly." Is it so surprising, so unthinkable that even people in the Pentagon purchased child pornography online?

Should I be astonished to realize that among those who have the key to our top secrets, some may buy child pornography along with their groceries?

So perhaps on Monday I'll call the Pentagon spokesperson to inquire: What should people who purchase child pornography look like? What jobs do they usually have? What non-top secrets do they usually hold?

Admittedly, I'm expecting more child-porn-purchasing agents among those who have "Top Secret Sensitive Compartmentalized Information." I'd imagine that, unlike me, they know well how to compartmentalize secretive and sensitive information that may cause harm if leaked.

"[T]he DCIS opened investigations into only 20 percent of the individuals identified, and succeeded in prosecuting just a handful." Apparently, the people who compartmentalize the top-secretive information -- either the nation's or their own -- do it so well, that even when they are identified, they remain mostly untouched.

"We were stuck in a situation where we had some great information, but didn't have the resources to run with it," said the source. So this story becomes just a generic version how a compartmentalized government cannot execute its own rules.

To examine whether I should be surprised by the Pentagon's secrets-holders, I found an academic paper by Ethel Quayle and Max Taylor from 2002: Child pornography and the internet: perpetuating a cycle of abuse, published in Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal.

Quayle and Taylor interviewed 13 men convicted of downloading pornography from the Internet. They were trying to examine the ways in which the respondents talked about child porno and its function in their accounts.

A critical issue relevant to the above emerging from this paper is the link between child pornography picture collection, and engagement with chat and other forms of communication with like-minded individuals. Much of this communication relates to exchange of fantasy (but presumably at times real) accounts, although there is clear evidence of individuals learning security procedures and gaining information generally about the location of supportive material.

In other words: secretive people communicate with secretive people, while "learning security procedures" and "gaining information generally about the location of supportive material" - perhaps Weapon of Mass Distraction?

The paper ends with a line that may be easily extended from child porn to matters of war and peace: "The challenge here, of course, is the development of effective international self-regulatory frameworks..."