House Adopts Intel Bill, Senate Affirms Torture Ban

The House of Representatives yesterday approved its version of the FY 2016 intelligence authorization act (HR 2596).

The bill includes “several” new reporting requirements intended “to enhance Congress’ role in and understanding of the classification process,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). One of these requirements is for a report to Congress noting each occasion in the past 5 years in which non-compartmented intelligence reporting has been disseminated through a (more restrictive) compartmented channel.

The bill passed by the House preserves a proposed new restriction on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board barring its access to covert action information. The Washington Post reported last week that the restriction was prompted by an op-ed written by the Board chairman suggesting that the Board might be able to assist in oversight of covert targeted killing operations.

Also yesterday, the Senate voted 78-21 to affirm a ban on torture and to limit the use of interrogation techniques to those that are included in Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (Appendix M). The measure was sponsored by Senators McCain and Feinstein.

“Current law already bans torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” Sen. McCain noted.

“However,” he said, “this amendment is still necessary because [after 9/11, so-called ‘enhanced’] interrogation techniques were able to be used, which were based on a deeply flawed legal theory, and those techniques, it was said, did not constitute ‘torture’ or ‘cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.’ These legal opinions could be written again.” The amendment is intended to preclude that possibility.

“I ask my colleagues to support this amendment,” Sen. Feinstein said, “and by doing so, we can recommit ourselves to the fundamental precept that the United States does not torture–without exception and without equivocation–and ensure that the mistakes of our past are never again repeated in the future.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who opposed the amendment, said “the effect of this policy is to hand our entire interrogation playbook to groups such as the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ‘ISIL,” Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, which is a profound mistake.”

House Intelligence Bill Would Limit PCLOB Oversight

Updated below

The House Intelligence Committee inserted language in the pending intelligence authorization bill that would bar access by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to classified information pertaining to covert action.

“Nothing in the statute authorizing the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board should be construed to allow that Board to gain access to information the executive branch deems to be related to covert action,” according to the new Committee report on the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2016 (section 306), published yesterday.

To the extent that covert action is employed against terrorism and is therefore within the scope of PCLOB’s charter, the House Committee action would preclude PCLOB oversight of the implications of such covert actions for privacy and civil liberties.

That “unduly restricts” PCLOB’s jurisdiction, according to Rep. James Himes (D-CT), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who unsuccessfully sought to modify the provision.

It is possible that there is some tacit rivalry between PCLOB and the congressional intelligence oversight committees, particularly since the PCLOB found that the Section 215 program for collection of telephone metadata was unlawfully implemented while the oversight committees had approved and embraced it. (The recurring failure of the intelligence oversight committees to accurately represent broader congressional and public perspectives over the past decade is a subject that remains to be addressed.)

By contrast, the same House bill directed that the DNI shall provide the Government Accountability Office with the access to information that it needs to perform its authorized functions. The relevant directive (ICD 114) “shall not prohibit the Comptroller General [i.e., the head of the GAO] from obtaining information necessary to carry out an audit or review at the request of the congressional intelligence and defense committees.”

The new House Committee measure may be gratuitous in any event, since the PCLOB is an executive branch agency and is already subject to the authority of the Director of National Intelligence to protect intelligence sources and methods, and to regulate access accordingly.

The PCLOB has recently posted a plan for its review of two counterterrorism-related activities governed by Executive Order 12333.

“The Board plans to concentrate on activities of the CIA and NSA, and to select activities that involve one or more of the following: (1) bulk collection involving a significant chance of acquiring U.S. person information; (2) use of incidentally collected U.S. person information; (3) targeting of U.S. persons; and (4) collection that occurs within the United States or from U.S. companies,” the PCLOB plan said.

Yesterday, Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain introduced an amendment to the 2016 defense authorization act “to reaffirm the prohibition on torture.” The amendment would limit interrogation techniques to those included in the unclassified Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (Appendix M). And it would require regular review of “to ensure that Army Field Manual 2-22.3 complies with the legal obligations of the United States and reflects current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use or threat of force.” The amendment had not yet been voted on as of yesterday.

Update: The origins of the House Intelligence Committee’s apparent animosity towards the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board were explored by Ellen Nakashima in Upset over op-ed, GOP lawmakers seek to curb privacy board, Washington Post, June 10, 2015.

Number of New Secrets Hit Record Low in 2014

The number of newly created national security secrets dropped to a record low level last year, but the financial costs of protecting classified information increased sharply, according to the latest data from the Information Security Oversight Office.

Original classification activity — meaning the designation of new classified information — declined by 20 percent in 2014 to a historic low of 46,800 original classification decisions, ISOO said in its new annual report for Fiscal Year 2014.

It was the fourth consecutive year of reductions in original classifications. ISOO has never reported a smaller number of original classification decisions. Ten years earlier (FY 2004), for example, original classification activity was reported at 351,150 original classification decisions.

What accounts for the continuing drop-off in the creation of new secrets? The answer is not entirely clear. It is in part a reflection of changes in the national security environment, as well as the vagaries of how agencies report their classification practices. ISOO director John P. Fitzpatrick said it was also likely to be a consequence of the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review that was performed under the Obama executive order in 2010-2012 in an effort to improve the quality of agency classification guides.

In the course of that Review, all existing guides were “scrubbed” to ensure that they provided current classification guidance and in some cases they were also refined to improve their clarity. One result, Mr. Fitzpatrick said yesterday, was that some agency classification decisions that might have otherwise been counted as new secrets were instead deemed to be “derivative” classification decisions that were based on the improved classification guidance.

Significantly, however, the volume of derivative classification decisions also declined for the past two years. Therefore, even if some reported classification actions were displaced from the original classification category to the derivative classification category, the overall result is still a net reduction in new national security classification activity, a significant policy achievement in itself.

While the number of new secrets dropped to a record low last year, however, the cost of protecting those secrets reached a record high.

“The total security classification cost estimate within Government for FY 2014 is $14.98 billion,” the ISOO report said, up from $11.63 billion in FY 2013.

The increase was primarily due to Department of Defense expenditures on information systems security, which increased by a reported $3.2 billion in FY 2014.

While some of the reported increase can be explained by improved accounting methods, much of it “was attributable to the many new initiatives underway in the aftermath of the serious security breaches that have occurred in recent years,” the ISOO report said. The breaches were not specified in the report, but major changes in security policy were prompted by the WikiLeaks disclosures of 2010.

These new DOD initiatives include measures to “improve network security by reducing anonymity, enhancing access controls and user monitoring, establishing enterprise auditing, restricting the removal of media, and developing insider threat programs.”

“None of these improvements come without considerable cost,” the ISOO report said.

The new ISOO report included several other notable observations, such as these:

*     In FY 2014 there were 813 formal classification challenges filed by authorized holders of classified information — government employees or contractors — who believed the information was wrongly classified. In response to the challenges, agencies overturned the classification status of the information in whole or in part in 453 of the cases (56 percent). In FY 2013, by comparison, there were only 68 such challenges and only 12 of them led to changes in classification.

*     The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel maintained its record of granting public appeals of Mandatory Declassification Review requests that had been denied by executive branch agencies in the majority of cases presented to it, in whole or in part. Out of 451 documents considered by the Panel on appeal, 181 were declassified in their entirety, and 157 were declassified in part. The continued classification of 113 documents was affirmed by the Panel.

The Fundamental Classification Guidance Review that apparently led to the recent reduction in national security classification must be performed every five years. The next such Review will soon begin and is due to be completed in 2017.

Intelligence Oversight in the 113th Congress

During the last two years, the U.S. intelligence community has faced momentous challenges and experienced extraordinary upheaval, including the Snowden disclosures beginning in June 2013 and the release of a redacted summary of the Senate report on CIA interrogation practices last year.

Those episodes and others are reflected in a new report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence describing its oversight activities in the 113th Congress from January 2013 to January 2015.

Highlights of the new report include these:

**    Efforts to make U.S. intelligence agencies financially auditable are progressing slowly. “The CIA, NGA, NRO, and NSA conducted audits of their fiscal year 2014 financial statements,” but only the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) completed the process successfully. The CIA, NGA, and NSA “received disclaimers of opinion,” meaning that their financial statements could not be validated by the auditors. “While the DIA and ODNI did not conduct an audit, both plan to do so in 2015,” the report said.

**    Over-control of classified information continues to hamper information sharing even within the intelligence community, the report said. “The Committee has been concerned about the IC’s misapplication and overuse of the originator control marking (ORCON), which can impede the complete and timely dissemination of intelligence, as the agency that originates the information retains control over its dissemination…. Committee staff concluded that the use of the ORCON marking by certain IC elements had increased substantially, and that in some cases classification and control marking policies had been violated.”

**    Efforts to enlist the resources of the Government Accountability Office to strengthen intelligence oversight — a move long advocated by outside observers — are continuing, as the Committee encourages “open lines of communication and collaboration” between ODNI and GAO. The new report reveals that the classified annex of the FY 2014 authorization bill “directed the development of a specific GAO review to bolster intelligence oversight and reduce unnecessary fragmentation, overlap, and duplication.”

**    The report provides some new details of the three-volume structure of the still-classified CIA “torture report”. The first volume addressed the history of CIA’s interrogation program in 1,539 pages. The second volume devoted 1,858 pages to intelligence acquired through the program and CIA’s representations of its effectiveness. And the third volume, in 2,855 pages, focused on the detention and interrogation of 119 CIA detainees.

**    The Committee report said that “Financial intelligence has emerged as a significant are of IC activity, aiming to ‘follow the money’ of adversaries. It has proven to be a powerful tool confronting a range of challenging threats including terrorism, weapons proliferation, and narcotics trafficking.”

**    “The Committee also devoted significant time and attention to lethal operations against counterterrorism targets…. The Committee has worked with the Executive Branch to understand the legal basis for these operations.”  Likewise, “The Committee seeks to ensure that covert action programs are consistent with United States foreign policy goals, and are conducted in accordance with all applicable U.S. laws.”

**    With seeming condescension, the report noted that “The Committee annually receives hundreds of phone calls, facsimiles, mail, and email communications from self-identified whistleblowers on matters they believe to be of urgent concern. Committee staff reviewed and investigated these communications.” If these investigations yielded any actionable findings, they are not mentioned in the report.

**    The report pointedly observed that “Since 1994, the Committee has held annual open hearings to review the Intelligence Community’s assessment of the current and projected national security threats to the United States.” That twenty-year tradition came to an end this year when the new Chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, decided to hold the Committee’s annual threat briefing in closed session.

The new Senate Intelligence Committee report does not contain any note of critical self-examination or any suggestion that congressional oversight itself might have been complicit in the errors and excesses of intelligence agencies. Accordingly, the report does not address any potential changes that might be made to improve the intelligence oversight process.

Afghanistan Contracting Flawed, DoD IG Says (FOUO)

The Government of Afghanistan is not equipped to manage contracts and “as a result, future direct assistance funds are vulnerable to increased fraud and abuse,” the Department of Defense Inspector General said in a report last month. The IG report was marked “For Official Use Only” and was not publicly released.

See The Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s Controls Over the Contract Management Process for U.S. Direct Assistance Need Improvement, DoD Inspector General, February 26, 2015.

The Inspector General assessment was reported by Bloomberg News yesterday (“Afghanistan Can’t Manage Billions in Aid, U.S. Inspector Finds” by Anthony Capaccio, March 10).

Also yesterday, the Department of Defense reissued guidance specifying that unclassified geospatial intelligence products may be withheld from public release under certain conditions, including international restrictions or operational security concerns. See DoD Instruction 5030.59, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Limited Distribution Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT), March 10, 2015.

Govt Backtracks on Classifying Afghanistan Data

Updated (twice) below

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have partially rescinded their effort to classify previously public oversight information concerning the status of coalition operations in that country after the move drew sharp criticism.

The sudden reversal was reported in the New York Times (U.S. Declassifies Some Information on Afghan Forces by Matthew Rosenberg, February 2).

In a report issued last week, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) had called the classification action “unprecedented” and said that it left SIGAR “for the first time in six years unable to publicly report on most of the U.S.-taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip, and sustain the ANSF.”

Some officials in the Department of Defense were said to be unhappy with this unexpected development, especially after its negative impact was magnified in editorials in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and in critical assessments in the Washington Post and elsewhere. And so a modification was made.

The specifics and the extent of the change in classification policy were not immediately clear.

Update (2/4/15): Here is a statement on the matter from Col. Brian Tribus, United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) Director of Public Affairs:

“General Campbell [Commander, USFOR-A] has not changed his position in regard to the importance of protecting Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) readiness data, which remains classified.

The ANSF took the lead for providing security in June 2013 and have since assumed full responsibility for securing the Afghan people. As the ANSF have become more capable, we have transitioned to our new, non-combat role. With this transition, the ANSF are now playing a critical role in providing security for coalition forces. In August 2014, General Campbell made the decision to classify Afghan National Security Forces’ readiness data in order to prevent potential adversaries from gaining critical information that could be exploited — endangering the lives of our Afghan partners and coalition forces serving alongside them. Just as we classify our own armed forces readiness reports, it is prudent for us as a reliable partner to do the same for the ANSF — especially considering that ANSF commands are now our primary source for that data and it is provided to us in a classified format. The prudence of General Campbell’s decision was underscored when President Ghani assumed office and, in his role as Commander in Chief of the ANSF, he reiterated the importance of keeping ANSF readiness data classified. The Afghan Chief of General Staff, General Karimi, reinforced this request.

USFOR-A is fully committed to working with the SIGAR. We recognize that SIGAR provides a vital function ensuring transparency and oversight of the expenditure of U.S taxpayer dollars. We have and will continue to implement many of the SIGAR’s recommendations that have helped make us more effective stewards of American funding.

With respect to the SIGAR’s January 2015 quarterly report, the SIGAR was given full access to all ANSF readiness information as well as every other piece of information that was requested. This enabled the SIGAR to share the information with Congress, consistent with its mandate. A large volume of the data requested by SIGAR, when viewed alone, is suitable for public release. However, releasable information was combined with related classified information, requiring it to be published in a classified annex.

USFOR-A has since gone back and separated data releasable to the public from classified ANSF readiness data based on the SIGAR’s request to release more information to the public. USFOR-A provided the separated, unclassified data to the SIGAR.

Again, General Campbell has not changed his position in regard to the importance of protecting ANSF readiness data, which remains classified.

For specifics regarding the unclassified data provided, please contact the SIGAR.

USFOR-A remains committed to working closely with the SIGAR in order to strike the right balance between maximum transparency and prudent protection of information regarding ANSF readiness.”

Update (3/3/2015): SIGAR has released a Supplement to the January 2015 quarterly report reflecting the newly declassified data.

DoD Classifies Data on Afghanistan Oversight

Updated below

In a startlingly indiscriminate classification action that officials termed “unprecedented,” U.S. General John F. Campbell, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, ordered the classification of a broad range of previously public information concerning operations in that country.

How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used? What are the definitions of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty”? What is the total amount of funding that the U.S. has expended on salaries for the Afghan National Police?

The answers to those questions, and more than a hundred others that had formerly been subject to public disclosure, are now considered classified information. The newly classified data was withheld from disclosure in the public version of the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that was released today.

“The classification of this volume of data for SIGAR’s quarterly report is unprecedented,” the new report stated. “The decision leaves SIGAR for the first time in six years unable to publicly report on most of the U.S.-taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip, and sustain the [Afghan National Security Forces].”

General Campbell defended his action (which was first reported today in the New York Times) in a letter to the SIGAR appended to the report.

“While I cannot comment upon the precise reason why certain information was considered unclassified in the past, I can advise that given the risks that continue to exist to our forces and those of Afghanistan, I have directed that sensitive operational information or related materials, that could be used by those who threaten the force, or Afghan forces, be classified at an appropriate level,” General Campbell wrote. “With lives literally on the line, I am sure that you can join me in recognizing that we must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces, particularly information that can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks.”

The General did not explain how budget and contracting information, among other routine data, could be used to sharpen attacks against allied forces.

The new classification action highlights the inadequacy of existing mechanisms for correcting excessive, abusive or mistaken classification decisions.

In principle, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office has the authority under executive order to overrule or modify General Campbell’s sweeping classification decision. But that authority, which has never yet been exercised in the 35 years of ISOO’s existence, may have finally atrophied beyond recovery.

Congressional complaints about overclassification, as in the case of the summary of the Senate report on CIA interrogation, tend to underscore the view that classification is an executive branch prerogative, and paradoxically to strengthen it.

A 2013 Department of Defense Inspector General report noted that out of a small sample of 220 DoD documents, at least ten percent were misclassified or overclassified, including documents based on public information. At that time, the DoD Inspector General generously concluded that “we do not believe that those instances concealed violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; prevented embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency; restrained competition; or prevented or delayed the release of information that did not require protection in the interest of national security.”

That deferential judgment will need to be amended in light of the expansive classification of oversight information concerning Afghanistan.

As a result of General Campbell’s decision, the Special Inspector General wrote, “much of the information SIGAR has used for the past six years to report on the $65 billion U.S. investment in the ANSF is no longer releasable to the public.”

Update: On February 2, the move to classify the relevant Afghanistan oversight data was partially rescinded, the New York Times reported.

SSCI Wants Copies of Full Torture Report Returned

Updated below

There is a new sheriff in town. Is that the message that Senator Richard Burr, the new chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is trying to send?

Senator Burr reportedly wrote to President Obama last week to ask that all copies of the classified 6,700 page Committee report on CIA interrogation practices be returned immediately to the Committee. While the redacted summary of the report has been publicly released and is even something of a bestseller for the Government Printing Office as well as a commercial publisher, the full report has not been made public. And Senator Burr seems determined to keep it that way.

Senator Burr’s letter was reported in C.I.A. Report Found Value of Brutal Interrogation Was Inflated by Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, January 20. (More: Washington Post, Huffington Post.)

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chaired the Committee while the report was produced, scorned the request for its return.

“I strongly disagree that the administration should relinquish copies of the full committee study, which contains far more detailed records than the public executive summary. Doing so would limit the ability to learn lessons from this sad chapter in America’s history and omit from the record two years of work, including changes made to the committee’s 2012 report following extensive discussion with the CIA,” she said in a statement.

Among other things, the proposed return of the full report may be intended to prevent its potential future accessibility through the Freedom of Information Act, which does not apply to records in congressional custody.

But if so, this seems short-sighted and probably futile, given that all of the evidentiary material on which the report is based originated in the executive branch anyway. Moreover, the Committee report has spawned an entire literature of agency evaluations and responses (such as the so-called Panetta Review). That literature belongs to the agencies, and sooner or later it should be subject to public disclosure regardless of the fate of the SSCI report.

Update 1/22/15: Jason Leopold of VICE News has a thorough account of this episode to date here, including a copy of the letter from Senator Burr and a letter from Senator Feinstein in response.

IC Inspector General Finds No Overclassification

“We do overclassify,” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, admitted at his 2010 confirmation hearing. It’s a theme he has reiterated on a number of occasions on which he has spoken of the need for increased transparency in intelligence.

So it comes as a surprise and a disappointment that a new study of the subject from the Intelligence Community Inspector General failed to identify a single case of unnecessary or inappropriate classification.

“IC IG found no instances where classification was used to conceal violation of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency; restrain competition; or prevent or delay the release of information not requiring protection in the interest of national security,” the December 2014 report said.

When it comes to overclassification, ODNI is far from the worst offender. But the IC IG report purports to address classification trends across the intelligence community. And its conclusions are hard to reconcile with the public record, to say the least.

Thus, at the same time that the Inspector General was finding no use of classification to prevent or delay the release of information not requiring protection, the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation practices was being hamstrung and delayed for months or years by dubious, inconsistent classification claims.

“Members of the Committee have found the declassification process to be slow and disjointed, even for information that Congress has identified as being of high public interest,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote to the President last month.

Today the New York Times reported on a 2012 report on intelligence surveillance practices that had been withheld in its entirety until it was partially released in response to a lawsuit brought by the Times. Numerous other examples of the misapplication of classification authority could be cited. Yet all of them were somehow missed or ignored by the IC Inspector General.

Meanwhile, some senior officials in the intelligence community are rethinking current classification practices and policies because they have concluded, contrary to the thrust of the new IG report, that the status quo is unsatisfactory.

“Going forward, I believe that the Intelligence Community is going to need to be much more forward-leaning in what we tell the American people about what we do,” said ODNI General Counsel Robert S. Litt in a public speech last year. “We need to scrutinize more closely what truly needs to be classified in order to protect what needs to be protected.”

Set Priorities for Declassification, Study Urges

Each year millions of pages of government records are declassified that few if any members of the public will ever look at. This is an awkward fact which is not often discussed because it might call into question the whole declassification enterprise.

“Statistical Records Relating to Ship Stability, 1918-67,” anyone? A new collection of declassified records on that subject was among those processed for release recently by the National Declassification Center. Like too many other such records, it seems unlikely to generate or to justify much public attention.

In response to this problem, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an official advisory committee, said that agencies should do more to selectively prioritize topics of high public interest for declassification review rather than trying to declassify most records as they become 25 years old.

“After studying declassification practices in use at agencies and at the National Declassification Center (NDC), we concluded that a coordinated government-wide policy focused on declassifying historically significant records with greatest interest to the public made most sense,” wrote former Congressman David E. Skaggs, the acting chair of the PIDB, in a letter to President Obama last week transmitting a new PIDB report on the subject.

“Currently, all classified records of a certain age receive the same attention, regardless of their historical value or potential research interest,” the PIDB report said. “Such indiscriminate use of dwindling government resources makes no sense.”

PIDB therefore proposed that agencies move away from broad-based “automatic declassification” (which is rarely if ever automatic) to “topic-based prioritization [that] would ensure declassification review of records of the greatest potential for use by the public, historians, public policy professionals and the national security community itself,” the report said.

The PIDB proposal, which addresses a genuine problem, itself raises several concerns.

Automatic declassification of all (non-exempt) historically valuable 25 year old classified records was originally mandated by the Clinton Administration in 1995 in order to compel agencies to take declassification seriously. It served as a forcing function, requiring documents to be released if they were not reviewed or exempted, and it yielded more than a billion pages of declassified records.

A move away from automatic declassification could eliminate that forcing function without replacing it with another equally compelling rationale. The PIDB report says, a bit vaguely, not to worry: “Lessening the burden of automatic declassification [in a shift to topical priorities]… should not reduce the overall declassification activity across government.” It is not immediately clear why not.

Another concern is how to establish which declassification priorities are actually dictated by “the public interest.” There are certainly passionate communities of interest surrounding topics such as the JFK assassination, prisoners of war, or intelligence history, but these are not necessarily a proper basis for a “public interest” declassification agenda. Even a preliminary list of declassification topics that was compiled by the PIDB itself and published in the new report is admittedly “too extensive and diffuse… to inform decisions leading to implementation of a priority-based declassification program.”

A deeper problem than the choice of topics or the impact of resource limitations is the question of which criteria are to be used by agencies for making declassification decisions. If the declassification criteria are obsolete or overly conservative, then applying them even to well-chosen topics won’t do much good.

The PIDB report does not directly engage the question of how to optimize and update declassification criteria. It does propose, however, to eliminate the crude pass/fail process that is often used to withhold entire documents when even a small portion of them is found to be exempt. The report also notes in passing that the 1992 JFK Assassination Records Review Act mandated disclosure requirements for assassination-related records that were “much more stringent” than those of past and current executive orders. There is perhaps an implicit suggestion that a similarly forthcoming approach could be adopted in other topical reviews.

The PIDB report also discusses new applications of technology to declassification, the need for increased risk tolerance, and other topics.

Meanwhile, the demand for declassification is persistent and growing.

Just last week, Sen. Carl Levin renewed his request to the Central Intelligence Agency “to fully declassify a March 13, 2003 cable from CIA field officers to headquarters. This cable provides information about the Bush administration’s campaign to build public support for the Iraq invasion” on grounds that were erroneous and misleading, Sen. Levin said in a December 11 floor statement.

A day before, Sen. Mark Udall introduced a resolution calling on the Administration to declassify records on mass killings and U.S. covert action in Indonesia in the 1960s. “Some may ask, why is this resolution needed? Why now? This is why: The survivors and descendants of victims continue to be marginalized. Many of the killers continue to live with impunity. Very few Americans are aware of these historical events or our government’s actions during this time. These events demand our attention and resolution as we work together to build a strong Asia-Pacific partnership,” he said.

And also last week, Congress approved the new FY 2014-15 intelligence authorization act containing a provision (sec. 321) that “requires the DNI to submit a report to Congress describing proposals to improve the declassification process.”