Secrecy News

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U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have partially rescinded their effort to classify previously public oversight information concerning the status of coalition operations in that country after the move drew sharp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