ISOO Reports Nine Percent Drop in Classification

The Information Security Oversight Office reported a nine percent drop in overall classification activity in its new annual report for FY 2005 (pdf).

Total classification activity (including “original” and “derivative” classification) dropped from the record high 2004 level of 15.6 million classification actions to 14.2 million, almost identical to the 2003 level.

“ISOO views the decrease reported in classification, particularly after three years of rising numbers, as a positive step,” ISOO Director William Leonard reported to the President.

Declassification increased during FY 2005 by 4 percent to 29.5 million pages.

While the data reported by ISOO each year serve as a useful benchmark, the ISOO methodology for collecting and reporting data is rudimentary and not very illuminating. For example, the annual report provides no way to assess overclassification.

During the period covered by the latest annual report, the 9/11 Commission determined that the amount of the annual intelligence budget was improperly classified and should be disclosed. But House Republicans and the White House blocked declassification (the Senate favored it) and the budget figure remained classified despite an expert bipartisan consensus in favor of disclosure.

But the reality of overclassification is not reflected in the ISOO data. There is no mechanism for determining just what fraction of classification actions are, like intelligence budget secrecy, illegitimate.

Still, the ISOO annual report provides an occasion to reflect on larger trends in classification and declassification.

“A responsible security classification system and a committed declassification program are the cornerstones of an open and efficient government that serves to protect and inform its citizens,” Mr. Leonard wrote.

The 2005 ISOO annual report also presents useful information on individual agency performance and related topics such as the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, the Public Interest Declassification Board, industrial security, and more.

In an extraordinary act of public outreach, the Information Security Oversight Office will hold a free public workshop on June 30 on the use of mandatory declassification review as a tool for researchers.

ISOO is also offering interested members of the public a DVD recording of an October 2005 Symposium on classification policy that was held to mark the 10th anniversary of executive order 12958.

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