Can the Secrecy System Be Fixed?

The release of some 90,000 classified records on the Afghanistan War by Wikileaks is the largest single unauthorized disclosure of currently classified records that has ever taken place, and it naturally raises many questions about information security, the politics of disclosure, and the possible impact on the future conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

But among those questions is this:  Can the national security classification system be fixed before it breaks down altogether in a frenzy of uncontrolled leaks, renewed barriers against information dissemination, and a growing loss of confidence in the integrity of the system?

That the classification system needs fixing is beyond any doubt.

“I agree with you, sir,” Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr., told Sen. Ron Wyden at his DNI confirmation hearing last week, “we do overclassify.”

That makes it more or less unanimous.  What has always been less clear is just what to do about the problem.

In what may be the last opportunity to systematically correct classification policy and to place it on a sound footing, the Obama Administration has ordered all classifying agencies to perform a Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.  The purpose of the Review is to evaluate current classification policies based on “the broadest possible range of perspectives” and to eliminate obsolete or unnecessary classification requirements.  Executive Order 13526, section 1.9 directed that such reviews must be completed within the next two years.

“There is an executive order that we, the [intelligence] community, are in the process of gearing up on how to respond to this, because this is going to be a more systematized process, and a lot more discipline to it,” Gen. Clapper said.

“Having been involved in this, I will tell you my general philosophy is that we can be a lot more liberal, I think, about declassifying, and we should be,” Gen. Clapper said.

It is unclear at this point whether the Fundamental Review will be faithfully implemented by executive branch agencies, whether it will have the intended effect of sharply reducing the scope of the national security classification system, or whether the system itself is already beyond repair.

No Responses to “Can the Secrecy System Be Fixed?”

  1. Allen Thomson July 28, 2010 at 12:58 PM #

    > What has always been less clear is just what to do about the problem.

    In case da Prez asks me, the thing he can do unilaterally (mostly: RD and COMINT are slightly special cases) is to eliminate all compartmentation. Unclassified, Secret, Top Secret — that’s it. That wouldn’t solve all the problems, but it would be a great start.

  2. Craig Helzer August 1, 2010 at 4:17 PM #

    What to do about the problem is a major concern. The best way to keep classified records just that, classified! I can’t fathom why our secrets are being released. This is the United States of America for God’s sake!!

  3. Adam Neira August 2, 2010 at 10:33 AM #

    Some intelligence must remain in the view of certain people. A perfect democratization of intelligence is only possible in a perfect democracy. In a good family, the father and mother will make executive decisions on behalf of their children. A philosopher king will usually make a better call than the mob. Human beings are loathe to admit that they need and benefit from structure.

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