Secrecy News

Annual Secrecy Costs Now Exceed $10 Billion

The rise in national security secrecy in the first year of the Obama Administration was matched by a sharp increase in the financial costs of the classification system, according to a new report to the President (pdf).

The estimated costs of the national security classification system grew by 15% last year to reach $10.17 billion, according to the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO).  It was the first time that annual secrecy costs in government were reported to exceed $10 billion.

An additional $1.25 billion was incurred within industry to protect classified information, for a grand total of $11.42 in classification-related costs, also a new record high.

The cost estimates, based on the classification-related activities of 41 executive branch agencies, were reported to the President by ISOO on April 29 and released yesterday.  They include the estimated costs of personnel security (clearances), physical security, information systems security, as well as classification management and training — all of which increased last year.

Many factors contribute to the rise in secrecy costs, but one of them is widespread overclassification.  Ironically, the new ISOO report provides a vivid illustration of the overclassification problem.

ISOO did not disclose security cost estimates for the large intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office — because those costs are considered classified.

Secrecy News asked two security officials to articulate the damage to national security that could result from release of the security cost estimates for the intelligence agencies, but they were unable to do so.  They said only that the classification of this information was consistent with intelligence community guidance.  But this is a circular claim, not an explanation.  The information is classified because somebody said it’s classified, not because it could demonstrably or even plausibly damage national security.

This kind of reflexive secrecy, which is characteristic of much of contemporary classification policy, would be stripped away if the Administration’s pending Fundamental Classification Guidance Review were properly and successfully implemented.  That Review process is supposed to bring “the broadest possible range of perspectives” to bear on the question of exactly what information should be classified, according to an ISOO implementing directive (pdf).  But so far there is no visible indication that the process is bearing fruit, or even that the Administration is seriously committed to it.

Last week Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers took time away from more urgent matters to sign a new memorandum (pdf) concerning implementation of the President’s 2009 executive order on classification.  But the Vickers memorandum is incomplete, dealing only with “immediate” implementation issues, and it does not mention the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review at all.

The Information Security Oversight Office reported last month that the number of original classification decisions — or “new secrets” — that were generated by the Obama Administration in its first full year in office (FY 2010) was 224,734.  That was a 22.6 percent increase over the year before.

7 thoughts on “Annual Secrecy Costs Now Exceed $10 Billion

  1. Paranoia breeds secrecy and secrecy breeds paranoia. What more can be expected from a world we have made for ourselves and is becoming less valuable as we progress. Wherever two people exist, greed is born, a child destined to eventually destroy humanity.

  2. And all this money spent so that all this super-secret info can get leaked out anyways. So let me get this straight: We give money to Government every year so that they can spend some of it on covering up their mess? I would rather pay $10B to keep every one of those political turds in check.

  3. Like everything else they write at FAS, this is a sanitized report to make it appear they are taking some type of action. When FAS, Steven Aftergood and others start taking action to report on secret uses of satellite systems and behavioral control technology I’ll be impressed by their efforts. Meanwhile, what is on “paper” is only a stale metaphor, “the tip of the iceberg”. Go home, abuse your spouse, cut your lawn, paint your house, keep up the appearance of normality.

  4. The Public Interest Declassification Board recognizes that a new classification system is needed. And they want YOUR help! They were tasked by the White House into seeking ways to transform the current national security classification system, a relic that was designed during the Truman White House and based on the use of paper and tightly controlling information.

    We are in a new century. The Cold War has ended. Information is created digitally and in multiple formats and this information is shared electronically. A new way to create, manage, and administer classified information is needed. Our government needs to plan for new declassification strategies to deal with ever increasing volumes of digital records.

    The Board has posted their ideas for transforming the system on their blog and has invited public comment on their ideas:

    Among their ideas:
    – Creating a comprehensive metadata strategy for classified records. See:

    – Using technology to automate and streamline much of the declassification process. See:

    – Ensuring that the Classified records of Congress are systematically reviewed for public access. See:

    – Ending the concept of “agency ownership” of historical records to streamline the declassification process and allow the National Archives to review these records for declassification. See:

    – Opening up our nuclear history by eliminating the “FRD” classification category for certain categories of historical records, such as obsolete war plans, historical testing information, and storage locations. See: See:

    You are invited to join the conversation – respond to the Board’s draft ideas or submit your own idea for public comment.

    Access to Government information, managing costs, documenting our Nation’s history, and using information wisely in support of Government policy and action – a new system is needed and you can help.

  5. If all administrations regardless of party complain about the leaks coming from inside their administration, then what information is being withheld that could possibly be embarrassing or do harm to our national interests?

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