DNI Clapper Embraces Review of Secrecy System

04.06.16 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper threw his weight behind the upcoming Fundamental Classification Guidance Review (FCGR), which requires executive branch agencies to review all of their classification guidance and to eliminate obsolete secrecy requirements every five years. (On the FCGR, see “Secrecy System to Undergo ‘Thoughtful Scrutiny’,” Secrecy News, March 28).

In an extraordinary memorandum sent to directors of five other intelligence agencies (CIA, DIA, NGA, NSA, and NRO), Director Clapper told them to seize the opportunity to overhaul current classification policy.

“This periodic review provides an ideal platform for the Intelligence Community (IC), as stewards of the nation’s most sensitive information, to take a leading role in reducing targeted classification activities that could extend to the larger Federal government,” Clapper wrote in his March 23 memo.

Ordinarily, the nuts and bolts of the classification system would be beneath the concern of senior agency officials. But DNI Clapper’s intervention changes that presumption. In effect, the Clapper memo focuses attention on what would otherwise be a routine mid-level bureaucratic function and elevates it to a senior-level imperative.

“I am requesting your personal involvement,” he wrote, instructing the intelligence agency directors to perform several additional steps above and beyond what the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review already requires.

Clapper asked for feasibility studies on reducing the number of IC Original Classification Authorities, on the utility of an IC-wide classification guide, on the elimination of the Confidential classification in the IC, and on a new initiative to promote discretionary declassification actions.

“Please comment on what would be required to implement a proactive discretionary declassification program distinct from the systematic, automatic, and mandatory declassification review programs” that already exist, the DNI wrote.

The history of secrecy reform in the U.S. government demonstrates that it is most effective — or that it is only effective — when it is driven by senior agency leadership. Not since Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary’s “openness initiative” in the 1990s has an agency head endorsed secrecy reform with the specificity and authority expressed by DNI Clapper.

“I believe your efforts will serve as a significant step forward in furthering our shared goals for greater openness and reduced classification activity while protecting legitimate national security interests,” he wrote to the intelligence agency directors.