THE ADMINISTRATION, it seems, has been working up a new system to deal with classified information in order to see that the right stuff gets to the right people, and only to them. The juiciest part of the scheme is that a new classification, above top secret, is being created: royal. It is solemnly avowed by those familiar with the system, in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill, that information will not be withheld from people who ought to have access to it. But the number of people cleared for royal will be very small.
The fact that under a new category some information will be restricted to a short list does raise the possibility of abuse. It is now widely accepted, for instance, that the list of those allowed to check plans for the Iranian rescue Mission was disastrously short. But it is not on its face wrong to draw up a short list -- as long as there are believable assurances that insiders who need to know will know and that the procedures will be kept open to review. The government does have a responsibility to regulate the flow of classified information and plug leaks. From what is known, it seems premature to suggest, as some have, that the new system is meant not so much to protect intelligence sources as to provide President Carter with a hiding place for politically damaging information -- about, say, his brother's Libyan ties.
But we would not be taking up your time today simply to tell you that. What really moves us is the new designation: royal. Hold that one up to the light. Recall that the old system was based on a set of words -- secret, top secret -- referring directly to the information being held. Even some of the old odd supersecret classifications, such as "cosmic" or "Q," refer to the information. You are "cleared for top secret." But, royal: it can only refer to the people cleared. Not since Richard Nixon put the White House police in double-breasted white tunics and vinyl operetta caps has there been a similar reaching out for simulated majesty.
All right -- it could have been worse: Holy, Blessed, Galactic, Superhuman, Hotsy-Totsy. But royal is bad enough. Is that really how the Carter White House views the Carter presidency? The Royal We lives.