DoD Reports “Impressive Strides” in Updating Classification

02.22.12 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Department of Defense said it has cancelled more than 300 of its 1800 classification guides as a result of the ongoing Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.  The defunct guides can no longer be used to authorize the classification of national security information.

“The Department has continued to make impressive strides in updating our Security Classification Guides (SCGs) and remains focused on ensuring that guidance reflects current operational and technical circumstances relevant to the protection of properly classified information,” DoD told the Information Security Oversight Office in a February 16, 2012 interim report.

“As a result, through the period of this report, approximately 17.7% of DoD’s non-compartmented SCGs have either been eliminated or identified for retirement,” the DoD report said.  (Non-compartmented SCGs do not include classification guidance for DoD special access programs or compartmented intelligence programs, which are being reviewed separately.)

The Fundamental Classification Guidance Review was mandated by President Obama’s 2009 executive order 13526 in order to identify and eliminate inappropriate classification requirements.  It is the Administration’s primary mechanism for combating overclassification.

Most of the newly cancelled guides (237 of them) originated with the Navy, which also has the largest number of guides (820).  The Army eliminated 21 guides out of 363, and the Air Force eliminated 27 out of 283.

The significance of the cancellations is hard to gauge, especially since the cancelled guides are not identified in the new interim report to ISOO.  In some cases, their elimination may make no practical difference since they were no longer in use anyway.  In other cases, the cancellations may reflect an updated consensus concerning the sensitivity of the information.

Collectively, the elimination of hundreds of classification guides will help to clear away much of the accumulated detritus of the national security secrecy system.  It will increase the clarity of classification policy, and reduce some of its arbitrariness.

If the Fundamental Review had reduced the inventory of classification requirements by five percent, it would have been worthwhile.  Remarkably, it now appears that that goal will be surpassed a few times over.

In its own interim report to ISOO, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that 2 security classification guides out of ODNI’s total of 29 had been eliminated by December 31 as the result of the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.