Secrecy Reduced at Justice Dept, Audit Finds

09.14.16 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Department of Justice has streamlined its national security classification activities over the last several years, resulting in the production of a diminishing number of secrets, according to a new report from the Department’s Inspector General.

Specifically, the IG found:

*     the Department reduced the number of Original Classification Authorities (i.e. officials who are authorized to generate newly classified information) from 64 in FY 2013 to 46 in FY 2016.

*     the Department reduced its original classification decisions (new secrets) from 4,455 in FY 2013 down to zero in FY 2015.

*     the number of derivative classification decisions (involving incorporation of previously classified information into new documents) also declined from 8.4 million in FY 2012 down to 7.7 million in FY 2015.

In short, there has been “a marked shift in classification behavior throughout DOJ,” the IG report said.

See Follow-up Audit of the DOJ’s Implementation of and Compliance with Certain Classification Requirements, second audit under the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010, September 2016.

(The IG report also identified some areas for improvement, including more appropriate use of the ORCON dissemination marking, and other classification practices, especially at the Drug Enforcement Administration.)

The reduced scope of national security secrecy at the Justice Department has been paralleled throughout much of the executive branch in recent years, such that the production of new secrets in the last two years is at the lowest levels reported in several decades. (“Number of New Secrets in 2015 Near Historic Low,” Secrecy News, July 29, 2016). By this measure, at least, one might even conclude that the Obama Administration is the most transparent ever.

While the systemic reduction of national security secrecy does not resolve all (or any) remaining disputes over secrecy policy, it does help to clarify them and perhaps to render them somewhat more tractable.

“There’s more work to be done here [on revising classification policy],” said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week at a forum of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. “And at some point, there will need to be, I believe, a fairly fundamental change in the classification system, not just in the I.C. but across the government.”

“The basic structure [of the classification system] is of course born out of a hard copy paper era and the rules we have today really aren’t compatible with the technology and the way we conduct our business. So at some point, I think there’ll be ‐‐ have to be a fundamental change. In the meantime, I’m kind of [doing], you know, what I can within the confines of the current system,” DNI Clapper said.