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Classification Levels Used by the Russian Federation

The Russian Federation has slowly undertaken the redesign of their bureaucratic systems to be more responsive to current conditions. The system for the protection and classification of State secrets that depended on closed cities and authoritative central control could not meet the needs created by open cities and decentralized power. In July of 1993, a new law established the basis for classifying information in the Russian Federation. This new law borrows from the old system of State secrets but incorporates methods to accommodate change according to the needs of an emerging and more open society.

The State Secret Law of the Russian Federation is not unlike the US Executive Order 12958 defining National Security Information. Like th Executive Order, the Russian law defines three levels of classification and areas of information that may be classified. The law also prohibits the classification of information not within the defined areas of classifiable information and establishes procedures for declassification.

Since 1993, the Russian government has issued "government decisions" detailing more exactly how this new State secrets system works and who may determine what information is classified. The law states that there shall be an overall government "list" defining what sorts of information are classified and that this list must be published in the open press. The List of Information Considered Among State Secrets [Decree No 1203 ] was signed by President Yeltsin on 30 November 1995. The new list was compiled by the Interdepartmental Commission for the Protection of State Secrets (hereafter referred to as the "interagency commission"), and was based on more detailed lists developed by each ministry.

In September of 1995, Government Decision No. 870 was issued approving the rules for classification of information. This new decision provided the basis for assigning each level of classification, the responsibility of each ministry head to approve what is classified, the establishment of expert commissions within each ministry to determine what should be classified, the rules for distribution of lists of what is classified to those working with classified information, and procedures for review of lists for currency. These rules are important because these lists are the centerpiece to the Russian State Secret's system in that they define exactly what information is classified along with its appropriate classification level. All lists are provided to the interagency commission which is responsible for compiling an overall government list and ensuring that different ministry lists are not contradictory.

The three levels of classification are

These classification levels can be applied only to information concerning the military, foreign policy, the economy, science and technology, intelligence, counterintelligence, and investigations. The level of classification assigned to information is meant to correspond to the degree of damage that may occur to the security of the Russian Federation if such information is released. Procedures for determining the degree of damage are to be approved by ministry heads and also approved by the interagency commission.

This scheme is very different from the U.S. system in which Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential classification levels are used according to the degree of damage to the United States, without consideration of the specificity of the information itself.

Information revealing a critical vulnerability in the defense of the Russian Federation would likely be considered Of Special Importance. Information revealing a deficiency in a particular weapon system may be considered Completely Secret by the Ministry of Defense, or information on a negotiating position may be Completely Secret according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Less sensitive information, such as information revealing a technical process used at a certain research facility or the budget allotted to a particular naval base, would perhaps be considered Secret by those respective organizations, if classified at all.

Each ministry or government body with classified information must have a list detailing what information is classified. This list is to be created by a commission of experts who will determine whether information should be included in the list and the appropriate level of classification. Those in each ministry who create the information and believe it should be classified are responsible for submitting proposals to the commission of experts to include that information in the ministry's list. Ministries sharing classified information are directed to obtain mutual agreement for consistent application of classification.

The head of the ministry has the authority to approve the list of information to be classified. This head at his or her discretion may classify this list and determine who should receive the list in order to fulfill work responsibilities. The head must forward a copy of the list to the interagency commission.

Changes to the list of classified information, by either the classification of more information or the declassification of information, are provided for in the law and recent Government Decision No. 870. Both law and decision note that international agreements and new achievements in science and technology may necessitate changes to approved lists. Both law and decision also mandate review of lists at least every 5 years. The decision stipulates that by using the same procedure as was used in determining the list, the ministry head has the authority to approve changes to the ministry list, though the interagency commission does have the right to challenge ministry decisions it does not believe are correct.

The Russian Federation is proceeding at a considered pace with implementation of its State Secrecy law. The most recent government decision approves rules for determining the levels of classification to be used, the procedures for determining the lists of classified information, and how these lists are approved and changed.

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Maintained by Steven Aftergood
Created by John Pike
Updated Thursday, November 27, 1997 8:30:36 AM