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In matters concerning intelligence, whether public or private sector, compartmentalization of information means to limit access to information to persons who directly need to know certain such information in order to perform certain tasks.
The basis for compartmentalization is that if fewer people know the details of a mission or task, the risk or likelihood that such information could be compromised or fall into the hands of the opposition is decreased. Hence, varying levels of clearance within organizations exist. Yet, even if someone has the highest clearance, certain "eyes only" information may still be restricted to certain operators, even of lower rank. In intelligence administration, officials believe it is useful to keep close watch on "sources and methods" information to prevent disclosure of people and their activities, whose lives they may believe to be at risk if such information were publicly disclosed or fall into the hands of the opposition.
In May of 2008, former Military Intelligence Sergeant Adrienne Kinne, who had served for ten years, from 1994 to 2004, and was active in the Iraq war, explained how compartmentalization worked to facilitate the wiretapping she participated in. She stated:
- "When this was going on, I had absolutely no idea what was going on in the rest of the military intelligence, the rest of our government. Everything is so compartmentalized that you don’t really know necessarily what the person next to you is doing, let alone in a different room in a different building in a different location. And so, it really wasn’t until the New York Times piece came out about the NSA’s domestic wiretapping that I really began to think about what we were doing and my mission and that we were collecting on Americans. And we were doing so for the flimsiest of reasons."