Obama Announces Review of Classification Policies

“We are launching a review of current policies by all of those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible,” announced President Obama in a speech at the National Archives today.

While the President has spoken broadly before of the need for greater transparency, this is the new Administration’s first public approach to reform of the national security classification system.  A focused review of individual agency classification policies, many of which have not been revised or updated for years, has the potential to eliminate obsolete classification requirements, and to minimize overclassification.  (See “Overcoming Overclassification,” Secrecy News, September 16, 2008.)

“I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what I said,” Obama said. “That is why, whenever possible, we will make information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable. But I have never argued – and never will – that our most sensitive national security matters should be an open book.”

“I will never abandon – and I will vigorously defend – the necessity of classification to defend our troops at war; to protect sources and methods; and to safeguard confidential actions that keep the American people safe. And so, whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions – by Congress or by the courts.”

The President also indicated that an ongoing review of the use of the state secrets privilege was “nearing completion.”

“On all of these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there is a simple formula. But there is not. These are tough calls involving competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach.”

“But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: we will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it is uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don’t know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why,” he said.

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