Basic Failures Abound in Classification Program

01.14.09 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“At a time where we would expect to find increasing stability in the [national security classification] program, we are instead finding failure with the implementation of basic requirements,” wrote William J. Bosanko, director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), in the latest ISOO annual report to the President (pdf).

Out of more than 1,000 classified documents examined by ISOO last year, “the appropriateness of classification was subject to question in over 25 percent,” Mr. Bosanko reported.  See the FY 2008 ISOO Report to the President, transmitted January 12, 2009.

In what may be the report’s most significant finding, ISOO discovered that the majority of classification guides used by government agencies to prescribe exactly what information should be classified at what level are badly out of date.

“Overall, 67 percent of the guides agencies reported as being currently in use had not been updated within the past five years,” the ISOO report said.  In effect, agencies are continuing to impose outdated classification restrictions on newly generated information.

This finding underscores the utility of, and the need for, an agency-by-agency “scrub” of all classification guides in order to eliminate obsolete classification practices.  (For more on this approach, see “Overcoming Overclassification,” Secrecy News, September 16, 2008.)

The new ISOO report also had some favorable news.  The number of original classification authorities (who are authorized to designate new information as classified) declined slightly.  The number of original classification decisions — new secrets — dropped by 13 percent.  For the fourth year in a row, a majority of new classification actions were assigned a declassification date of ten years or less.  The number of classification challenges within the executive branch disputing the classification status of certain information rose to 436 formal challenges from 275 the year before.  The ISCAP, which reviews appeals of declassification requests that have been denied, declassified a greater percentage of information than in past years.

But in general, declassification languished.  “The overall number of pages reviewed and pages declassified by Executive branch agencies has declined significantly from previous years.”  And it is unlikely that agencies will meet a December 31, 2009 deadline for automatic declassification of 25 year old records that contain multiple agencies equities (or interests), the ISOO report said.

In the end, the classification system can only work as well as government officials want it to work, the ISOO report concluded.

“Ultimately, the success or failure [of agency classification policies] depends on the commitment of the agency heads and senior agency officials to the classified national security information program established by the President,” ISOO said.

See all publications
Nuclear Weapons
New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship: Creative Perspectives on Rethinking Nuclear Deterrence 

To empower new voices to start their career in nuclear weapons studies, the Federation of American Scientists launched the New Voices on Nuclear Weapons Fellowship. Here’s what our inaugural cohort accomplished.

11.28.23 | 3 min read
read more
Science Policy
Expected Utility Forecasting for Science Funding

Common frameworks for evaluating proposals leave this utility function implicit, often evaluating aspects of risk, uncertainty, and potential value independently and qualitatively.

11.20.23 | 11 min read
read more
Nuclear Weapons
Nuclear Notebook: Nuclear Weapons Sharing, 2023

The FAS Nuclear Notebook is one of the most widely sourced reference materials worldwide for reliable information about the status of nuclear weapons and has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by the staff of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Project: Director Hans […]

11.17.23 | 1 min read
read more
Social Innovation
Community School Approach Reaches High of 60%, Reports Latest Pulse Panel

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ August 2023 pulse panel, 60% of public schools were utilizing a “community school” or “wraparound services model” at the start of this school year—up from 45% last year.

11.17.23 | 4 min read
read more