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Need to know basis

posted Feb 20, 2017, 10:54 AM by Viktor Zólyomi   [ updated Feb 20, 2017, 10:54 AM ]
`Need to know basis,' or, `that's on a need to know basis and you don't need to know,' is the street expression for the idea that classified information cannot be shared with everyone. As you might guess, the phrase originates from a man in a position of authority, though not quite the way you might expect.

In the year 1903, just a few months after the Great Flood that destroyed Con City, journalists gathered on a field to the north of town where a tree house served as the temporary City Hall. Howard Jackson, the Mayor of Con City, was set to make an announcement regarding the reconstruction of the city which the evacuated residents and business owners had been demanding since the day of the flood. Mayor Jackson himself, however, was not present at the press event. His deputy, Adam Asher, announced that the Mayor was in the process of finalizing the negotiations with an unnamed investor about the funding of the constructions.

The journalists of course bombarded Adam Asher with questions regarding the investor's identity. The investor, Frank Oberdick, who later went on to be Mayor of Con City (among other things), had asked Mayor Jackson to keep his name a secret in order to build anticipation for the upcoming announcement, set to take place a week later, when Oberdick and the Mayor would stand before a crowd side by side and shake hands on the deal. In accordance with the instructions passed to him, Adam Asher deflected just about every question at the press event. When the last question came, he answered it with the words, `that information is on a need to know basis and you don't need to know,' then took his notes and left the podium. The question was, `when will the Mayor and the investor come forward?'

The next day all news outlets in Con County crucified Asher for his refusal to reveal the date of the much anticipated visit of the then unnamed investor. Asher issued a prompt press release in which he insisted that he had misheard the question and revealed the date of the upcoming event, but his words were met with skepticism. Mayor Jackson, who wanted the date of the contract signing with Oberdick to be known and anticipated by everyone, and was forced to push the meeting and thereby the reconstruction of Con City back by another two weeks, fired Asher. When Asher asked for a detailed reason for his dismissal, the Mayor reportedly told him that the reason was `on a need to know basis.'