Constitution Project Welcomes 2009 Report on Government Classification System for National Security Information

Report provides some transparency for classification system, but highlights continuing need to rein in excessive governmental secrecy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: Matthew Allee, (202) 580-6922 or mallee@constitutionproject.org

WASHINGTON – Today, the National Archives and Records Administration’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) released to the president its 2009 annual report examining the government’s system for classifying and declassifying national security information. ISOO’s yearly report is a critical oversight tool that promotes transparency and helps the government and the public assess how well federal agencies are carrying out the requirements set forth in the Executive Order on classified national security information. The Constitution Project welcomes this report for shedding light on the classification system and highlighting problem areas that must be addressed to rein in excessive secrecy.

The 2009 ISOO report endeavors to develop a methodology that will permit “counting of classification decisions in the electronic environmnet,” by including such formats as classified web pages, email, and blogs. This effort is commendable even though the result is that 2009 figures for new “derivative” classifications – documents that incorporate classified information from original classified sources – cannot be compared to the figures from earlier year.

1. The 2009 report for the first time includes agency-specific figures for original classification decisions, which should reflect new government secrets. These figures reveal a disturbing inconsistency even among agencies that would be expected to have the greatest number of new classification decisions. Whereas the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported only four new original classifications for 2009 and the Director of National Intelligence reported only two, the Department of the Army reported 75,080 original classifications and the Department of Justice (which includes the FBI) reported 48,950. It is highly unlikely that the Justice Department is responsible for over 12,000 times as many new secrets as the CIA. Agencies should be required to explain these vast discrepancies and follow the rules of the Executive Order more closely.

2. The report demonstrates that the vast majority of classified information is “derivatively” classified. Although the Constitution Project recognizes that ISOO’s revised methodology, which reflects the electronic environment, has skewed these figures upward dramatically, the fact remains that vast quantities of documents are being classified through the derivative process. This is very troubling, since derivative classifiers are not provided the same rigorous training and accountability as personnel with original classification authority. The Constitution project has recommended that derivative classifications should be reviewed and approved by a person with original classification authority within five years of the derivative classification marking in order to retain their classification.

3. ISOO’s document review revealed that 65% of the examined classified documents contain discrepancies from proper classification markings, some of which were so severe that the classification of 35% of the reviewed documents was questionable. ISOO should be commended for highlighting these problems, and its recommendations for more detailed and focused training and internal quality control measures should be heeded.

On December 29, 2009, President Obama issued a new Executive Order on Classified National Security Information.

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