Fewer New Secrets, But More Classified Documents in 2006

For the second year in a row, the number of new national security secrets created by government officials declined, according to a new report to the President (pdf) from the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO).

At the same time, however, the number of new classified records incorporating previously classified information increased sharply, ISOO found.

While “original classifications” declined by 10%, “derivative classifications” increased by 45%. As a result, combined classification activity grew from 14.2 million classification actions in 2005 to 20.5 million classification actions in 2006.

Meanwhile, the financial costs of protecting classified information in government and industry also grew to a new record high of $9.5 billion in 2006.

Significantly, reviewers reported a “high error rate” in the documents that they examined for compliance with classification procedures.

The finding underscores the need for additional oversight.

“ISOO found a high percentage of documents with an unknown basis for classification, as these documents failed to indicate the authority or basis for classification, thereby calling into question the propriety of their classification.”

More positively, ISOO found that declassification activity increased to meet the December 31, 2006 deadline for automatic declassification of most 25 year old classified documents.

“While a detailed analysis of the final results is still underway, it appears that all Executive branch agencies have succeeded in meeting their obligations toward automatic declassification,” ISOO director J. William Leonard wrote to President Bush.

More than 1.33 billion pages of classified historical records have been declassified since 1995 (including 37 million pages in 2006, a one year increase of 27 percent). Of these, only around 460 million pages are publicly available at the National Archives. Another 400 million pages await processing at the Archives prior to public release, while the remainder are still in agency custody.

“A task that at times appeared to be unattainable has been brought to a satisfactory culmination,” Mr. Leonard wrote.

But the task is not over, he noted, since each year millions more additional records become 25 years old and subject to automatic declassification.

A copy of the 2006 Information Security Oversight Office Report to the President is here.

Once again, the Office of the Vice President declined to cooperate with ISOO last year and to provide data on its classification and declassification activity. It last reported to ISOO in 2002.

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