Secrecy News

Pentagon Inspector General to Probe Overclassification

The Department of Defense Inspector General (IG) announced that it will begin to review the Department’s classification practices, as required by the 2010 Reducing Over-Classification Act.

The review will evaluate the policies and procedures “that may be contributing to persistent misclassification of material.”  It will also address “efforts by the Department to decrease over-classification,” wrote Acting Deputy Inspector General James R. Ives in an October 3 letter sent to Department officials.

The new Inspector General review has the potential to thicken and enrich the oversight of national security classification policy.  The IG staff will have broad access to whatever classified Department information they require to perform their statutorily-mandated review.  Moreover, they typically have an investigative orientation that goes beyond routine monitoring.  And while the Information Security Oversight Office is responsible for secrecy oversight government-wide, the IG reviews (which are to be coordinated with ISOO) are to be focused, in-depth assessments of a single host agency and so they may be expected to provide new granularity as well as actionable findings.

Of course, there are limits to what the IG can achieve.  The IG review will at best evaluate the Defense Department’s compliance with executive branch classification policies;  it will not inquire into the necessity or wisdom of the policies themselves.  If the executive order on classification is based on outdated presumptions, or is otherwise misconceived– that is beyond the purview of the IG.

Still, this seems like an approach worth testing.  The use of Inspectors General to bolster classification oversight was advocated by the Federation of American Scientists at a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on “Classification of National Security Information” in July 2007.  Rep. Anna Eshoo, who chaired the hearing, welcomed the idea as “very helpful.”

The proposal for IG review was then embraced by Rep. Jane Harman, who incorporated it into her 2007 House bill on over-classification.  With the Senate sponsorship of Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Reducing Over-Classification Act was finally passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in October 2010.

The DoD IG had said last year that it intended to begin the classification review “immediately,” but that seems to have been a false start.  In any case, the first of two IG reviews in each agency must be completed by the end of September 2013.

The DoD Inspector General also announced another project to review interactions between DoD employees and the media concerning DoD classified programs.