Classification is broken, report says…

The federal government is classifying information at a rapidly increasing pace

More black holes than a cheesy sci-fi film

More black holes than a cheesy sci-fi film (Photo credit: gary_foulger)

, and every time the CIA, FBI or National Security Agency stamps a document “Top Secret,” it’s risking the public’s right to know, says a report released Thursday by the Public Interest Declassification Board.

The current classification system, the board concluded, is “fraught with problems. In its mission to support national security, it keeps too many secrets, and keeps them too long; it is overly complex; it obstructs desirable information sharing inside of government and with the public.”

The board, an official body of academics, ex-spys and transparency experts appointed by the president and Congress, does not have the power to force changes. Only the president, it says, has the power to force agencies to end an overly cautious culture of secrecy. But non-governmental organizations have questioned the administration’s commitment to transparency, citing its prosecution of people who have leaked confidential documents to the press.

The National Archives have a declassification backlog of 400 million pages just for documents older than 25 years. And as computers suck up more data, the problem is getting worse. At one unnamed intelligence agency, the board found, the equivalent of 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text is classified every 18 months.

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Obama Administration Issues WikiLeaks Executive Order….

By executive order, President Obama will instruct federal agencies today to better safeguard their classified secrets, to set up internal audit systems, and to make sure that reluctance to share critical intelligence in the aftermath of the WikiLeaks exposure does not hamper collaboration across agencies.

The so-called “WikiLeaks” executive order has been long awaited by the national security establishment and by the privacy and civil liberties communities. It was provided by the White House to National Journal. The order creates a government-wide steering committee to create and assess information sharing policies across the government, as well as a mechanism to determine whether internal auditing procedures work properly.

A Compelling Headline, Forty Years Later: Pentagon Papers Released!

I took this photograph myself when I went on a...

Image via Wikipedia

Ever wonder how utterly, completely screwed up the classification system really is?From the inestimable Secrecy News:

Forty years after they were famously leaked by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971, the Pentagon Papers will be officially released next month at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.

The National Archives announced this week that it “has identified, inventoried, and prepared for public access the Vietnam Task Force study, United States-Vietnam Relations 1945-1967, informally known as ‘the Pentagon Papers’.” As a result, 3.7 cubic feet of previously restricted textual materials will be made officially available at the Nixon Library on June 13, the Archives said in a May 10 Federal Register notice.

While any release of historical records is welcome, the official “disclosure” of the Pentagon Papers is in fact a sign of disarray in the government secrecy system.  The fact that portions of the half-century old Papersremained classified until this year is a reminder that classification policy today is often completely untethered from genuine national security concerns.

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