A Veneer of Secrecy Reform at the Pentagon

10.14.08 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

At first glance, several provisions in a newly reissued Defense Department Instruction seem to offer a surprisingly forthcoming public disclosure policy to curb the steadily increasing secrecy of recent years. But on closer inspection, that is probably not the case.

“Declassification of information shall receive equal attention with classification so that information remains classified only as long as required by national security considerations,” according to DoD Instruction 5200.01, entitled “DoD Information Security Program and Protection of Sensitive Compartmented Information” (pdf),October 9, 2008.

This DoD requirement that declassification and classification should receive “equal attention” does not appear anywhere in the President’sexecutive order on classification or in its implementing directive which allow agencies to prioritize declassification as they see fit.

Similarly, the new DoD Instruction dictates that “The volume of classified national security information and CUI [controlled unclassified information], in whatever format or media, shall be reduced to the minimum necessary to meet operational requirements.”

No such policy on reducing the volume of secret information to the minimum is specified in the executive order or in the President’s May 2008 policy on controlled unclassified information.

On second glance, however, it turns out that both of these requirements have been on the books at the Pentagon for over a decade (except for the reference to the new CUI category) in the previous version of DoD Directive 5200.01, even as secrecy has grown by leaps and bounds. In other words, these provisions have proved to be mere rhetorical gestures that do not actually constrain official secrecy policy.