The Cold War system of classifying and declassifying information held by United States government agencies is “overly complex, “keeps too many secrets” for to long and obstructs information sharing inside government and with the public, according to a report produced by a board of individuals that President Barack Obama ordered on classified information.
As part of an executive order issued by Obama on December 29, 2009, a Public Interest Declassification Board formed to research and open up a discussion on how to fix a system “fraught with problems.” The Board proposed recommendations in a report released last week and, for the most part, it is remarkable because it calls for a shift in the culture that leads to “unwarranted classification.” It urges the White House to push agencies to help overhaul the systems of classification and declassification so more information is made public automatically and efficiently and less information is kept secret for long periods of time.
The report recommends the system be simplified so “national security information” is placed into only two categories – a Higher-Level category and a Lower-Level category. Top Secret information would be in the Higher-Level category while all other classified information would be in the Lower-Level category and there would be standards requiring a “lower level of protection” for this information. It would work just like this two-tiered system works in intelligence or defense agencies, which classify Top Secret information on Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) and Secret, Confidential and Unclassified/For Official Use Only information on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet)
The two tiers would be “defined and distinguished by the level of identifiable protection needed to safeguard and share information appropriately, and these protection levels would determine whether classification is warranted, at what level, and for how long.” Identifying a “specific consequence of release of the classified information and the potential harm to the national security of limiting the sharing of the information” would be part of procedure. Protection of the information would replace the current practice of presuming what “damage” could occur. Instead, there would be a focus on the minimum protection necessary for sensitive information with the hope that users would classify information at the lowest levels or even keep it unclassified.
The report recommends that “specific protections accorded intelligence and non-intelligence sources and methods” be “better defined and distinguished.” It should be easier to discern what is and is not an “intelligence source.” Also, “intelligence methods” should be “more precisely defined” so they can be appropriately classified and then eventually declassified.