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Executive Office Reports that Classification Is Declining

New Classifications Graph
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The Information Security Oversight Office, which reports directly to the White House on issues pertaining to national security programs and the classification system, released its Fiscal Year 2012 report showing that by some standards, the classification system is shrinking.

The report was released just fifteen days after the first disclosure of classified National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs. Such programs have brought the Obama Administration under fire and pushed a number of issues to the forefront of national debate, including the appropriate balance of security and privacy, and the appropriate number of government and contractor employees with top-secret clearance.

As one of the many measures of government secrecy, a certain shrinking within the classification system is surprising amid such debate. Overclassification has plagued the government for years; the 9/11 Commission found it to be one of the main reasons agencies were unable to prevent the attacks.

The ISOO report showed a large decrease in the number of original classifications, or the initial decision to classify new material, from FY 2011 to FY 2012. It was, in fact, the lowest total since 1996. There was also a slight decrease in the number of original classification authorities, which are officials able to classify new information.

Cost of Classification Graph

The cost of security-related classifications, another important figure, also decreased for the first time since 1995.

Declassification Graphic

On the other hand, ISOO reports that from FY 2011 to FY 2012, the number of pages declassified by the federal government declined. The declassification process requires a review of the material, and 8 million fewer pages were reviewed in FY 2012 than in FY 2011. Pages reviewed and pages declassified were each at their lowest totals since 2004.

The number of derivative classifications—the reuse of classified material by those with appropriate clearance—reportedly increased to an all-time high in FY 2012. Since 1996, this number has increased from nearly 6 million to 95 million, in large part due to the inclusion of electronic records in metrics.

This stark increase is disconcerting, but that trend might be reversing itself soon: the increase in derivative classifications could be mitigated by the reduction in original classifications. This is because derivative classifications stem from original classifications, “creating new and possibly multiple forms of the information.” Once a high-ranking official initially classifies material, other officials with appropriate clearances use that classified material again, creating a branching out of the classified material. A reduction in original classifications will likely lead to a reduction in derivative classifications.

The ISOO report has led some to conclude that the “secrecy system itself is showing surprising new signs of restraint and even contraction.” While the Project On Government Oversight is pleasantly surprised by the vertical contraction of the classification system, concerns remain. The decreased total of pages reviewed for declassification is problematic, as is the horizontal ballooning effect derivative classifications are having. It will be interesting to see just how much effect the decrease in original classifications will have on derivative classifications.

By: Jack Scher
Intern, POGO

Photograph of Jack Scher Jack Scher is an intern for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Government Accountability

Related Content: Government Secrecy, Intelligence, Overclassification

Authors: Jack Scher

Submitted by Axel Sabersky at: August 1, 2013
1776, USA President Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 'Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal'. Revised blog comment reply, posted on GAP, NWC and FederalDaily and pending review, 7/24,25,26/2013 I was pleased to have recently received a reply e-mail from Mr. Tom Devine mentioning that I am welcomed//invited to the forthcoming Whistleblower Conference in Washington DC on 7/29/2013 to 7/31/2013. I also acknowledge that Mr. Devine will try to have my blog comment reply posted to this GAP Article in reference to the forthcoming 7/25/2013 scheduled Whistleblower//Journalist conference.. I am old in years of age, a documented Whistleblower within the 11/2003 National Whistleblower Center, Mr. Stephen M. Kohn, US Senate Ethics and Good Government Committee Testimony and in MSPB, US Federal Judge's Handbook, Elections on a case I was never heard on within the Original matter, the Stated matter and the Whistleblower matter, and I take a daily pill to survive the day and I have been substantively ignored and therefore retaliated upon by GAP, NWC POGO et all.,<=OSC!! and again<=OSC!! I will gladly and again try my best to speak and be heard. I allege my words will again be relevantly clear, highly significant, accurate, compelling and generally spot perfect correct and complimentary to your panelist expectations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why and how is it possible that then sitting Congressional Person Jane Harmon who was caught on Pacifica and other media as soliciting our US Highest and most confidential secrets, including Nuclear Weapons systems information to alleged International Terrorist powerful Israel Lobbyist or Spies in exchange for a recommendation for a seat on the US National Intelligence most high and secret US Legislative Government Committee and yet President Carter Attorney Lynne Stewart, CIA Kiriakou, Mr. Lindh, Pfc. Manning, Mr. Assange and now Mr. Snowden and others are condemned to death or remain abused and to rot in Jails or Prisons and known and/or unknown Jails, Prisons and/or US torture Centers and located worldwide and on land and sea!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Also, I will continue to hope for significant efforts and accomplishments towards the release of Alabama Governor, Mr. Don Siegleman from his wrongful and unjust confinement). The enactment of the death penalty is not in compliance within any proper Law, Religion and Democracy. It is also a high crime and misdemeanor of Terrorism, Treason and Traitorous and/or via negligence and/or malfeasance. (I presume I should also mention the seemingly subversion and seemingly Malfeasance of the 7/25/2008 'Presidential Powers and It's Limitations' Impeachment Hearings from Madam Chairperson, Speaker of the US Congressional Legislature Ms. Nancy Pelosi, should also have an notation allegation for comment on this blog comment reply). Hopefully Ms. Radack and others at this 7/25/2013 conference and their other scheduled 7/29/2013 to 7/31/2013 Washington DC annual Whistleblower Conference will have and result in successful accomplishments. Thank you for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Axel Axel Sabersky
Submitted by Jabroni at: July 18, 2013
Your very informative graphs bring up some interesting points and very valuable insight

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