For Immediate Release
Constitution Project Welcomes 2009 Report on Government Classification System for National Security Information
Report provides some transparency for classification system, but highlights continuing need to rein in excessive governmental secrecy
WASHINGTON - Today, the National Archives and Records
Administration's Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) released
to the president its 2009 annual report examining the government's
system for classifying and declassifying national security information.
ISOO's yearly report is a critical oversight tool that promotes
transparency and helps the government and the public assess how well
federal agencies are carrying out the requirements set forth in the
Executive Order on classified national security information. The
Constitution Project welcomes this report for shedding light on the
classification system and highlighting problem areas that must be
addressed to rein in excessive secrecy.
The 2009 ISOO report endeavors to develop a
methodology that will permit "counting of classification decisions in
the electronic environment," by including such formats as classified web
pages, email, and blogs. This effort is commendable even though the
result is that 2009 figures for new "derivative" classifications -
documents that incorporate classified information from original
classified sources - cannot be compared to the figures from earlier
In particular, the Constitution Project commends
ISOO for highlighting, and calls on the government to cure, the
The 2009 report for the first time includes agency-specific figures for
original classification decisions, which should reflect new government
secrets. These figures reveal a disturbing inconsistency even among
agencies that would be expected to have the greatest number of new
classification decisions. Whereas the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
reported only four new original classifications for 2009 and
the Director of National Intelligence reported only two, the
Department of the Army reported 75,080 original classifications and the
Department of Justice (which includes the FBI) reported 48,950. It is
highly unlikely that the Justice Department is responsible for over
12,000 times as many new secrets as the CIA. Agencies should be required
to explain these vast discrepancies and follow the rules of the
Executive Order more closely.
2. The report
demonstrates that the vast majority of classified information is
"derivatively" classified. Although the Constitution Project recognizes
that ISOO's revised methodology, which reflects the electronic
environment, has skewed these figures upward dramatically, the fact
remains that vast quantities of documents are being classified through
the derivative process. This is very troubling, since derivative
classifiers are not provided the same rigorous training and
accountability as personnel with original classification authority. The
Constitution Project has recommended that derivative classifications
should be reviewed and approved by a person with original classification
authority within five years of the derivative classification marking in
order to retain their classification.
ISOO's document review revealed that 65% of the examined classified
documents contain discrepancies from proper classification markings,
some of which were so severe that the classification of 35% of the
reviewed documents was questionable. ISOO should be commended for
highlighting these problems, and its recommendations for more detailed
and focused training and internal quality control measures should be
On December 29, 2009, President Obama issued a new
Executive Order on Classified National Security Information. The 2009
data contained in today's report reflects operation of the classified
information system under the earlier classification order. The new
Executive Order includes several improvements, which will hopefully help
cure some of the deficiencies described in the ISOO report. These
include provisions designed to reduce over-classification, and establish
the principle that no information may remain classified indefinitely.
In July 2009, the Constitution Project released
its report Reining in Excessive Secrecy: Recommendations for Reform
of the Classification and Controlled Unclassified Information Systems.
That report includes eighteen specific recommendations for reforming
the classification system to reduce the problem of over-classification.
To access a copy of ISOO 2009 report, go to: http://www.archives.gov/isoo/
To view the Constitution Project's report, Reining
in Excessive Secrecy, go to: http://www.
The Constitution Project is a politically independent think tank established in 1997 to promote and defend constitutional safeguards. More information about the Constitution Project is available at http://constitutionproject.org/.