Declassification of national security information should be pursued on a par with classification, according to a Department of Defense directive that was reissued yesterday.
“Declassification of information will receive equal attention as the classification of information so that information remains classified only as long as required by national security considerations,” said DoD Instruction 5200.01, dated April 21 and signed by Marcel Lettre, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.
This seems commendable as an aspirational goal, but it is hard to consider it an accurate description of existing DoD policy. (The “equal attention” language has been in force since 2008, when it appeared in a prior iteration of the Instruction.)
Nor is it clear what DoD means by “equal attention” in this context. Equal resources devoted to classification- and declassification-related activities? Surely not. Equal numbers of personnel engaged in classification and declassification? No. Equivalent quantities of records being classified and declassified? Also no.
Still, in a rules-based bureaucracy like the Pentagon, a directive from the Under Secretary of Defense has some intrinsic weight and cannot be entirely dismissed.
It is also noteworthy that the Instruction goes beyond requiring some sort of equilibrium between classification and declassification and calls for an actual reduction in the amount of classified material: “The volume of classified national security information and CUI [controlled unclassified information], in whatever format or media, will be reduced to the minimum necessary to meet operational requirements.”
In a new provision, the Instruction emphasizes the need to address unauthorized disclosures of classified information:
“Commanders and supervisors at all levels must consider and, at their discretion, take appropriate administrative, judicial, contractual, or other corrective/disciplinary action to address negligent discharges of classified information commensurate with the seriousness of the security violation.”
A “negligent discharge” sounds like something that is frowned upon in the Book of Leviticus. But it is actually an officially-sanctioned DoD term for certain types of unauthorized disclosures. An August 14, 2014 memorandum from the Deputy Secretary of Defense explains its origin:
“A negligent spillage or unauthorized disclosure of classified information is categorized as a Negligent Discharge of Classified Information (NDCI), which is based on the familiar firearms term ‘Negligent Discharge,’ to connote its seriousness.”
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