Assuming that the overall aim of intelligence is the provision of national security and that an efficient tradecraft incorporates both sharing and safeguarding, the ultimate challenge remains to know what and what not to share with whom. This implies knowledge about the respective information’s relevance to someone who seeks to harm national security and consequently requires the following essential questions to be answered:
• Who seeks harm to national security and must therefore be seen as an adversary?
• What information that is relevant for the adversary’s aim is not known to him yet and can be hidden from him?
With the adversary being part of the public, anything that is known to the public cannot be hidden from the adversary either. Any attempt to do so is therefore useless. However, in practice, the actual distribution of an information in public domain is more relevant to national security than the theoretical possibility to access and use it. Furthermore, unclassifying information that matches an alleged leaked information represents a confirmation of its authenticity. This is why safeguarding can even make sense for information that is in public domain.
The attempt to further withhold information while it is already in public domain can also stem from a lack of awareness of what is commonly known by the public or at least by those with a sufficient interest such as the adversary. Keeping up with the adversary therefore means keeping up with the public although this does not necessarily hold true vice versa. Nevertheless, the public must not be confused with the adversary even though this seems to be the case sometimes. In democracies at least, governments’ power depends much on their relationship with the public. What if the state lags behind its people, maybe even more than those who want harm?