“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.”