from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2012, Issue No. 72
July 20, 2012

Secrecy News Blog:


The latest report from the National Declassification Center features notable improvements in interagency collaboration in declassifying records, along with increased efficiency and steadily growing productivity. Even so, the declassification program will almost certainly miss its presidentially-mandated goal of eliminating the backlog of 25 year old records awaiting declassification by December 2013.

The new NDC report puts on a brave face and presents an upbeat account of its achievements to date.

"As of June 30, 2012, we have assessed 90% of the backlog. Quality assurance evaluation and processing for declassification prior to final segregation and indexing have been completed on 55% of that 90%," the report says. Of the records that have been fully processed, 82% have been approved for public release.

Yet the awkward fact remains that only around 50 million pages of the original 370 million page backlog have been fully processed in the past two and a half years. The prospect that declassification of the remaining 320 million pages will somehow be completed in the next 18 months as ordered by President Obama in 2009 is quickly receding.

It is shocking -- or it ought to be -- that the classification system is not fully responsive to presidential authority. Beyond that, the impending failure to reach the assigned goal is an indication that current declassification procedures are inadequate to the task at hand.

While the NDC has already achieved some difficult changes in declassification policy, something more is evidently needed.

Potential changes that could be adopted include self-canceling classification markings that require no active declassification; depopulation of the obsolete Formerly Restricted Data category for certain types of nuclear weapons information, which complicates declassification without any added security benefit; and the surrender of agency "equity" or ownership in government records after a period of time so as to enable third-party (or automatic) declassification of the records.

These and other changes in declassification policy could be placed on the action agenda by the forthcoming report to the President from the Public Interest Declassification Board.


Following a closed House Armed Services Committee hearing on leaks yesterday, the Department of Defense issued a statement outlining its multi-pronged effort to deter, detect and punish unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

"The Department of Defense has taken a comprehensive approach to address the issue of national security leaks," the statement said. "Personnel in all components are continuously working to protect classified information and identify those who do not uphold their obligations to protect national defense information."

Several of the steps announced have previously been described and implemented, such as new guidance on protection of classified information and physical restrictions on use of portable media to download classified data. Other measures involve new tracking and reporting mechanisms, and the ongoing implementation of an "insider threat" detection program.

Although many of these changes originated in response to WikiLeaks-type disclosures of DoD information two years ago, their repackaging now might serve to diffuse congressional anger over more recent high-profile leaks, and to preempt more extreme legislative responses.

The new DoD statement does not admit any valid role for unauthorized disclosures under any circumstances.

To the contrary, the Secretary of Defense affirmed that the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs is the "sole release authority for all DoD information to news media in Washington."

In other words, DoD Public Affairs is the only legitimate source for defense news and information. It follows that freedom of the press means the unfettered ability of reporters to write about what the DoD Public Affairs Officer says.


Both as a matter of humanitarian principle and as sound military strategy, U.S. military forces should strive to minimize civilian casualties in military operations, according to new U.S. Army doctrine published on Wednesday.

"In their efforts to defeat enemies, Army units and their partners must ensure that they are not creating even more adversaries in the process," the new publication states.

"Focused attention on CIVCAS [civilian casualty] mitigation is an important investment to maintain legitimacy and ensure eventual success. Failure to prevent CIVCASs will undermine national policy objectives as well as the mission of Army units, while assisting adversaries."

So, for example, "When Army units are establishing and maintaining wide area security, it may be more important to minimize CIVCAS than to defeat a particular enemy."

However, "While CIVCAS mitigation efforts can greatly reduce CIVCASs, it is unreasonable to expect that CIVCASs can be completely eliminated in all instances. When CIVCASs occur, the most important part of the response is to determine the facts of the incident, including the numbers and severity of CIVCASs."

"Recognizing that they are in a constant information battle with their adversaries regarding CIVCASs and other issues, Army units should maintain a consistent pattern of truthfulness and timeliness."

"Army investigations [of civilian casualty incidents] should strive for integrity, credibility, and inclusion of external perspectives.... Immediate and broad denial of reports without complete and accurate information in hand can undermine credibility, especially if the investigation finds reports [of civilian casualties] were correct."

See "Civilian Casualty Mitigation," ATTP 3-37.31, July 2012:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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