DoD Special Access Records to Stay Classified at Least 40 Years

11.06.13 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Department of Defense special access programs (SAPs) will normally remain classified for at least 40 years, according to newly issued DoD SAP marking guidance.

SAPs are established to protect particularly sensitive government information by imposing access requirements that exceed those for other classified information.

“SAP documents, dated prior to January 1, 1982, shall be declassified on December 31, 2021,” the DoD marking guidance said. “SAP documents dated after January 1, 1982, shall be declassified on December 31 of the 40th year after the date of the document, unless it is reviewed and submitted for another extension.” See Special Access Program (SAP) Security Manual: Marking, DoD Manual 5205.07, vol. 4, October 10, 2013.

The use of special access controls by the Department of Defense has proved problematic over the years because it disrupts the oversight protocols that would otherwise be in effect.  DoD SAPs have produced several multi-billion dollar program failures, including the A-12 aircraft, the TSSAM missile, and others.

There is a substantial record of improper creation of SAPs at DoD, and failure to properly terminate them. A 1992 DoD Inspector General audit of one such program, for example, found that “the decision to protect the program using special program measures was not adequately justified” AND DoD “continued to safeguard its association with the technology for reasons that were not related to national security.”

Unfortunately, a recent DoD Inspector General report on Department classification policy completely failed to assess the current use of special access controls by DoD. It was one of several defects and omissions in the DoD IG report.  (“DoD Inspector General Report on Overclassification Misses the Mark,” Secrecy News, October 24, 2013.)