Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 29, 2009

Please comment on classification policy

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Philip J. Palin on June 29, 2009

The White House is inviting your input on future treatment of classified information.  The following is from this morning’s White House blog:

We are very interested in receiving your comments on how classified national security information policy should be revised. I am Martin Faga, Chairman of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), which is an advisory committee established to promote the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities. 

On May 27, 2009, the President signed a Memorandum ordering the review of Executive Order 12958, as amended, “Classified National Security Information” (pdf). The review of the Order is to be completed within 90 days. On June 2, 2009, the National Security Advisor asked the PIDB to assist in this review by soliciting recommendations for revisions to the Order to ensure adequate public input as the review moves forward.   

In response to this request, the PIDB will first solicit recommendations through this blog. We expect to receive thoughtful comments that further the discussion of policy in four areas: declassification policy, a National Declassification Center, classification policy, and technology issues and challenges. We will begin today with declassification policy and allow commenting on this topic for three days before moving on to the next topic. 


It would be great if you would copy-and-paste what you write in the DPF in comments to this blog post.  The resulting discussion on HLSwatch could contribute to the overall effort.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 29, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

Just posted this comment on the DPG blog!

Paper records that could be manually classified or declassified are about to disappear. The world of information will be entirely virtual and this fact cannot be addressed in the short period assigned the review process. So the former EO should be confined soley to paper records and entirely new EO should be designed for the virtual world. Also the advent of codeword programs (black) and the inability of the NARA to house and process these records means that significant US history has been or will be lost. A special system of instant identification of the Executive Branch or Military Branch that classified the document over time will be instrumental in determining future analysis of effectiveness and efficiency in classification. Over time the fact that “National Security” is undefined as the basis for classification means that the “Eye of the Beholder” often controls. What I do worry about is the principle of “instant declassification” when appointees make a determination that prior classification of a document or policy should be instantly declassified. Perhaps requiring a declassification review process even for President’s declassifying because it is politically inconvenient to continue classification should be reviewed. For example, the PAL lock system was revealed in Time Magazine after President JFK wanted the public to know that the Soviets did not have the same level of nuclear safeguards and surety that we (the US) did. Inadvertently he allowed by the release of the PAL information the upgrading of Soviet Nuclear Surety but at the same time shortened their nuclear strike response time. Perhaps a more thoughtful process would have reached the same conclusion that benefits of disclosure would exceed costs, but who knows. Also recommend all involved in this issue read former Senatory Monyihan’s book entitle “Secrecy” and remember that the premise of our democracy (republic) is an informed citizenry.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 30, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

Following is my contribution to the DPF. They have asked for current comments on the declassification process. In coming days they will move onto other issues. As my contribution suggests, I think the real problem is extraordinary latitude in what can (even should) be classified.

Here’s what I posted:

It has been my impression and experience that the declassification process itself is satisfactory. But the results of the process are quite modest. These results are bounded by the classification standards as noted in Section 3.1:

Sec. 3.1. Authority for Declassification.

(a) Information shall be declassified as soon as it no longer meets the standards for classification under this order.

(b) It is presumed that information that continues to meet the classification requirements under this order requires continued protection.

Unless and until the classification standards are narrowed, the declassification process is limited to an exceedingly small proportion of the classified collection.

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