SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 35
April 12, 2011

Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/

OBAMA CLASSIFICATION REFORM FAILS TO TAKE HOLD

An Obama Administration initiative to curb overclassification of national security information that was announced in December 2009 has produced no known positive results to date.

The Fundamental Classification Guidance Review, which was mandated by President Obama's executive order 13526 (section 1.9), requires each classifying agency to review all of its existing classification instructions prior to June 2012 and "to identify classified information that no longer requires protection and can be declassified." While more than a year remains to complete the process, it is already behind schedule.

The Department of Defense, the most prolific classifying agency, failed to produce implementing regulations for the executive order in advance of the December 31, 2010 deadline for doing so set by the President. As a result, most DoD components have not even started to review their classification guides, of which there are thousands.

Most recently, U.S. Central Command said it had no records concerning the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review. "We conducted a thorough and good faith search for responsive information," CENTCOM told us in a March 28 letter. "Despite our extensive and careful search for documents pertaining to your request, we were unable to locate responsive information."

U.S. European Command, on the other hand, said that it had already completed its Fundamental Review. But it concluded that its existing classification practices were already optimal, so no reductions in classification were required!

"The EUCOM Intelligence Office conducted a review as directed by E.O. 13526 for a Fundamental Classification Guidance Review," EUCOM said on January 18. "No inefficiencies were found during the EUCOM review. No documents were produced during the review therefore, EUCOM reports a no records found in response to your FOIA request."

Other agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State seem to be taking a more diligent approach to the Fundamental Review, though even in those cases no specific elimination of any current classification instruction is known to have occurred thus far.

Some significant reductions in Obama Administration classification policy have occurred, including dramatic changes in intelligence budget secrecy and nuclear stockpile secrecy. But these important developments emerged from issue-specific circumstances, and not from systematic classification reform efforts.

Last January, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office wrote to senior agency officials to emphasize the importance of the Fundamental Review and the need for rigorous implementation.

"The scope of this review needs to be systematic, comprehensive, and conducted with thoughtful scrutiny involving detailed data analysis," wrote ISOO director William J. Bosanko. But Mr. Bosanko has recently moved on from ISOO, which awaits appointment of a new director. Meanwhile the Fundamental Review appears stalled and unproductive in much of the executive branch.


THE DEBT LIMIT: HISTORY AND RECENT INCREASES

A statutory limit on total federal debt has been in place since 1917. In the past decade, Congress has voted to raise the debt limit ten times and it will now have to do so once again.

The history of the debt limit and its current implications were discussed in a recently updated report from the Congressional Research Service. See "The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases," March 7, 2011:

And see, relatedly, "Reaching the Debt Limit: Background and Potential Effects on Government Operations," February 11, 2011:

Reports from the Congressional Research Service have become such an integral part of the national policymaking process that two CRS reports were cited this month in an opinion issued by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel concerning the President's constitutional authority to use military force in Libya.

One of the reports addressed "Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2010" and the other was on "Haiti: Developments and U.S. Policy Since 1991 and Current Congressional Concerns."

Remarkably, however, neither of the CRS reports cited in the OLC opinion is available on any congressional website, since Congress stubbornly opposes direct public access to CRS products. To find them online, one must turn to non-congressional websites.

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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