Controlled Unclassified Info May Be Classified, US-Czech Doc Says

Government agencies may redesignate “controlled unclassified information” (CUI) as classified information in order to prevent its disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, according to an agreement signed last week between the United States and the Czech Republic.

The July 8 agreemen (pdf) on establishment of a U.S. missile defense radar in the Czech Republic devotes an entire section (Article XII) to “controlled unclassified information,” which is defined as “unclassified information to which access or distribution limitations have been applied in accordance with applicable national laws.”

The new agreement surprisingly presents national security classification as an option when facing involuntary disclosure of CUI under the Freedom of Information Act:

“Each Party shall take all lawful steps, which may include national classification, to keep controlled unclassified information free from further disclosure (including requests under any applicable domestic legislation)…, unless the originating Party consents to such disclosure.”

While there is an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for “properly classified” information, there is no such exemption for CUI. (According to a May 7 White House policy statement, “CUI markings may inform but do not control the decision of whether to disclose or release the information to the public, such as in response to a request made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.”)

Classification of CUI — which by definition is information that does not meet the standards for classification — in order to evade the requirements of the FOIA would be a violation of official classification policy, as set forth in the president’s executive order.

Coincidentally or by design, the text of the new Agreement between the U.S. and the Czech Republic has not been made available on any publicly accessible U.S. government web site, though the State Department issued a July 10 Fact Sheet about it. But it was published in the Czech Republic and a copy is available here.