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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Three Federal FOIA Wins in One Week?

A huge week for federal FOIA, and the federal judiciary getting it right….

The U.S. Justice Department has lost three significant court rulings over records sought by the public under the Freedom of Information Act, including a rare order to release a classified document.

English: Internal CIA memo, released under the...

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The rulings have been issued recently by judges in federal district court in Washington. Two of the judges have ruled that protecting the privacy of congressmen is not enough reason to withhold records about corruption investigations of the lawmakers.

The third ruling, from U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts, said the U.S. Trade Representative must turn over a position paper prepared during negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, conducted in the 1990s and 2000s, which never resulted in a deal. The Justice Department had argued that disclosure of the document would damage foreign relations since it agreed with other nations that documents produced during the negotiations would not be released to the public.

On Wednesday, Roberts sided with the Center for International Environmental Law in finding there were no plausible or logical explanations to justify the secrecy. He cited the member nations’ agreement that all documents produced during negotiations would be publicly available at the end of next year unless a country objects to the release of one of its own documents. He said that was evidence that the confidentiality was meant to give the participating nations a way to release their own materials, rather than keep other countries from releasing theirs.

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