Declass Panel Helps Overcome Reflexive Secrecy

One of the most successful innovations in the otherwise mostly stagnant domain of classification policy was the creation of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), an executive branch entity that was established by President Clinton’s 1995 executive order 12958.

For over a decade, the ISCAP has maintained an astonishing record of ordering the declassification of information in a majority of the documents that have been presented for its review.  In each of those cases, the Panel effectively overruled the classification judgment of one of its own member agencies.  There are policy lessons to be learned from this experience concerning the often poor quality of routine classification actions and the value of extending declassification authority beyond the originating agency.

Bill Burr of the National Security Archive recently prepared a thoughtful overview of the creation and the operation of the ISCAP, together with a compilation of several of the latest documents that it approved for release.  See “The Secrecy Court of Last Resort: New Declassification Releases by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP),” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, June 5.

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