Comments Invited on “Transforming Classification”

The Public Interest Declassification Board, an advisory committee appointed by the President and Congressional leaders, is developing recommendations on how to transform the national security classification system.  It has invited interested members of the public to comment on its emerging recommendations over the next several weeks on a new blog here.

The Board itself has no power to effect any transformation; it is purely advisory.  However, it has also been fairly influential.  Its advocacy of a National Declassification Center (first proposed by the Moynihan Commission in 1997) probably helped bring that concept to fruition.  In any case, even if the Board has little direct leverage of its own, “we do have access” to senior policy makers, said Board Chair Martin Faga, a former National Reconnaissance Office director, last week.

The initial recommendations of the Board stop well short of anything that we would call transformation.  Most fundamentally, the Board does not propose any reductions in the scope of what is classified.  It also does not inquire whether today’s hierarchical classification system is appropriate to a networked world, much less what could be devised to replace it.

But the very fact of a public conversation on the purpose and character of national security secrecy may have transformative implications.  So interested persons are encouraged to participate.

Board member Sanford J. Ungar wrote about “Unnecessary Secrets” in the March/April 2011 issue of Columbia Journalism Review.

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