from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2016, Issue No. 31
April 6, 2016

Secrecy News Blog:


Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper threw his weight behind the upcoming Fundamental Classification Guidance Review (FCGR), which requires executive branch agencies to review all of their classification guidance and to eliminate obsolete secrecy requirements every five years. (On the FCGR, see "Secrecy System to Undergo 'Thoughtful Scrutiny'," Secrecy News, March 28).

In an extraordinary memorandum sent to directors of five other intelligence agencies (CIA, DIA, NGA, NSA, and NRO), Director Clapper told them to seize the opportunity to overhaul current classification policy.

"This periodic review provides an ideal platform for the Intelligence Community (IC), as stewards of the nation's most sensitive information, to take a leading role in reducing targeted classification activities that could extend to the larger Federal government," Clapper wrote in his March 23 memo.

Ordinarily, the nuts and bolts of the classification system would be beneath the concern of senior agency officials. But DNI Clapper's intervention changes that presumption. In effect, the Clapper memo focuses attention on what would otherwise be a routine mid-level bureaucratic function and elevates it to a senior-level imperative.

"I am requesting your personal involvement," he wrote, instructing the intelligence agency directors to perform several additional steps above and beyond what the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review already requires.

Clapper asked for feasibility studies on reducing the number of IC Original Classification Authorities, on the utility of an IC-wide classification guide, on the elimination of the Confidential classification in the IC, and on a new initiative to promote discretionary declassification actions.

"Please comment on what would be required to implement a proactive discretionary declassification program distinct from the systematic, automatic, and mandatory declassification review programs" that already exist, the DNI wrote.

The history of secrecy reform in the U.S. government demonstrates that it is most effective -- or that it is only effective -- when it is driven by senior agency leadership. Not since Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary's "openness initiative" in the 1990s has an agency head endorsed secrecy reform with the specificity and authority expressed by DNI Clapper.

"I believe your efforts will serve as a significant step forward in furthering our shared goals for greater openness and reduced classification activity while protecting legitimate national security interests," he wrote to the intelligence agency directors.


The total number of employees and contractors holding security clearances for access to classified information at the Department of Defense dropped by a hefty 900,000 between 2013 and 2016 -- or 20% of the total cleared population at DoD. At the start of the current Fiscal Year, DoD had a remaining 3.7 million cleared personnel.

These data were presented in the latest quarterly report on Insider Threat and Security Clearance Reform, 1st quarter, FY 2016, published last month.

Importantly, this was a policy choice, not simply a budgetary artifact or a statistical fluke. A reduction in security clearances is a wholesome development, since it lowers costs and permits more focused use of security resources. It also increases pressure, at least implicitly, to eliminate unnecessary security classification restrictions.

However, reductions in clearances appeared to be stabilizing over the past year, with the elimination of around 100,000 clearance holders who did not have access to classified information, and an increase of around 100,000 cleared persons who did have such access.

Meanwhile, the Insider Threat program is being slowly implemented across the government. The Department of Defense expanded its "Continuous Evaluation" capability -- providing automated notification of financial irregularities or criminal activity, for example -- to cover 225,000 employees, up from 100,000 last year. The Department of State also initiated its own Continuous Evaluation pilot program.

Overall, the Insider Threat program faces continuing hurdles. "Many departments and agencies are discovering challenges with issues such as organizational culture, legal questions, and resource identification, to name a few," the latest quarterly report said.


I mistakenly wrote on April 4 that the U.S. inventory of Highly Enriched Uranium in 2004 was 590.5 Metric Tons, and that very little HEU had been eliminated between then and 2013 when, as the White House announced last week, the total HEU inventory was 585.6 Metric Tons.

The 590.5 MT number came from a 2006 Department of Energy report. But I read the report wrong: 590.5 MT was the amount of U-235, not the amount of HEU. The actual inventory of HEU in 2004 was 686.6 Metric Tons.

Therefore, between 2004 and 2013 there was indeed a sizable reduction in the U.S. HEU inventory from 686.6 MT to 585.6 MT, or 101 Metric Tons. Thanks to Prof. Alan Kuperman for pointing out the error.


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

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