Need to know

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Concept.png Need to know 
(tradecraft,  statecraft)Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Giving information only when needed to only those people who need it is fundamental to both tradecraft and statecraft.

The need to know principle is basic ingredient of both tradecraft and statecraft. The urge for secrecy meand that information flow should be as restricted as possible. Unless and until someone has a demonstrable need to know some specific information, they should not be provided with it.


Full article: Classification

The most obvious structure to facilitate is the classification of information; information is graded into different classifications, to which personnel are similarly apportioned access as their activities require.


Full article: Compartmentalisation

Compartmentalisation, i.e. the maintenance of strict boundaries between different operations and operatives, is important for both tradecraft and statecraft. Deep politicians carefully plan operations so they can be run independent of one another, with a minimal number of people (i.e. often just them) in possession of the complete facts of what an operative is really intended to achieve.

Phased information release

The "need to know" basis restricts not only to whom information is disclosed, but also when; information should be released only at the last available opportunity. This is not only a guard against its accidental release should an operation go wrong or an operative get captured, but allows for seemless embedding of contingency plans and the deception of those involved.

Recent developments

21st century communication technologies facilitate both fast and wide dissemination of information. This presents a technological challenge to the control of information flows and makes the "need to know" principle even more important than ever.


Related Quotations

George Carlin“The Government wants to tell you things you can't say because they're against the law, or you can't say this because it's against a regulation, or here's something you can't say because it's a...secret; "You can't tell him that because he's not cleared to know that." The government wants to control information and control language because that's the way you control thought, and basically that's the game they're in.”George Carlin
Deep state actor“Crozier himself makes the point that many of the prominent politicians invited to sit in on Cercle strategic sessions had no knowledge of their hosts' more clandestine operational activities – if only because of the "need to know" principle. Nonetheless, a stalwart multi-functionary on the Boards of several groups linked to the Cercle can be presumed to have some deeper involvement beyond just lending his name to the cause.”David Teacher
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