DoD Inspector General Takes on Classification Oversight

02.08.12 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In a move that can only strengthen and improve oversight of the national security classification system, the Department of Defense Inspector General has begun a far-reaching review of Pentagon classification policy.

Among other things, the Inspector General review will focus on “efforts by the Department to decrease over-classification.”

In response to the “Reducing Over-classification Act” enacted by Congress in 2010, the IG will “evaluate the policies, procedures, rules, regulations, or management practices that may be contributing to persistent misclassification of material.”  The Act was originally sponsored by Rep. Jane Harman and Sen. Joe Lieberman.

The IG notified the military service secretaries and DoD agency heads of its new classification oversight project in an October 26, 2011 memorandum obtained by Secrecy News.

For years, critics of secrecy policy including the Federation of American Scientists have called for a greater role for inspectors general in classification oversight, to augment the work of the Information Security Oversight Office.  IGs typically offer several advantages:  Since they are part of the executive branch, their involvement in classification policy does not raise thorny separation of powers issues.  Moreover, as resident agency employees, IG investigators are already in place, they already hold all needed security clearances, and they should already be familiar with their agencies’ programs and policies.

Best of all, they are poised to identify defective practices when they discover them.

The FAS Project on Government Secrecy commenced two decades ago with a complaint we submitted to the DoD Inspector General regarding the classification of the Timber Wind nuclear rocket program as an “unacknowledged special access program.”  In its December 16, 1992 response, the IG determined that “the decision to protect the program using special program measures was not adequately justified.”  The IG further found that certain program information was safeguarded “for reasons that were not related to national security.” The Timber Wind program did not survive.