The agency that handles America’s classified information says the system is “unsustainable.”
The report from the Information Security Oversight Office was concluded a few weeks ago but just became available.
It is accompanied by a letter to the president from ISOO Director Mark Bradley, who explains the system supports the military, the intelligence community and diplomacy.
He said the only solution to the increasing challenges of cost and efficiency is to “replace existing analog and paper-based operations” with “digital solutions.”
He explains the dilemma: “Too much classifications impedes the proper sharing of information necessary to respond to security threats, while too little declassification undermines the trust of the American people in their government.
“Reforms will require adopting strategies that increase the precision and decrease the permissiveness of security classification decisions, improve the efficiency and effectiveness of declassification programs, and use modern technology in security classification programs.”
The subject of classified material has been at the center of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to while she was secretary of state.
The ISOO report finds that the current system is costing billions, while being “hamstrung by old practices and outdated technology.”
Bradley’s report to the president said, “We are at a crossroads.”
The Federation of American Scientists commented that ISOO’s “sense of urgency is reflected in the annual report itself, which strives to be more forward leaning and policy-relevant than many past ISOO reports.”
“It goes beyond the recitation of (often questionable) statistics on classification activity to present a series of findings and recommended actions that it says are needed to restore the integrity of the system,” FAS said.
“In addition to a call for development of a comprehensive new technology strategy for classification and declassification, ISOO specifically recommends adding a new budget line item for security classification in agency budget requests to help regulate and justify expenditures, and adding a public member to the Information Security Classification Appeals Panel to represent the broad public interest in that Panel’s work on declassification.”
FAS also pointed out some of the report’s “more interesting” findings.
“ISOO said that last year there were again hundreds of classification challenges presented by government employees who disputed the classification of particular items of information. Most of the challenges were denied, but in 8 percent of the cases (a small but non-negligible number) they were upheld and the classifications in question were overturned. Such classification challenges ‘serve a critical role by uncovering information improperly classified in the first instance,’ the ISOO report said, providing ‘an internal check on the system.’ Because the challenges are now mostly localized in just a few agencies, this practice has the potential to have far more impact in combating overclassification if it can be adopted and encouraged more widely across the executive branch.”
The report pointed out that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency now requires written justifications for original classification decisions, along with a description of the damage that would result from unauthorized disclosure, and an unclassified paraphrase of the classified information.
FAS said: “Some of the other recommendations in the report flag problem areas rather than advance solutions, and tend to do so in the passive voice: ‘Policies must be revised to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of automatic declassification.’ How exactly should the policies be revised? Adopt a ‘drop-dead date” for classification? Eliminate agency referrals for older documents? Grant broad declassification authority to the National Declassification Center? The report doesn’t say.”
FAS charges that the White House, “coupled with the support of senior agency leaders, must lead the charge in modernizing technology that underpins our country’s security classification system. The long-term sustainability of the security classification system depends largely on achieving strategic reforms in government-wide policy and technology modernization.”
The government report states: “Our national security requires more precise and less permissive classification practices. The key lies in confining original classification decisions to the minimum necessary required to support mission objectives. Inaccurate classification activity – most often manifested in over-classification – presents a significant barrier to appropriate information protection and sharing.”