Study Reveals US Government Needs To Overhaul Its Classification System As Soon As Possible |

Study Reveals US Government Needs To Overhaul Its Classification System As Soon As Possible |

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According to a recent analysis by a Washington research firm, US officials are classifying documents that should be public or shared more widely in government, hindering national defense goals and risking control of executive power by lawmakers. .

The findings, which were released Tuesday by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, were based on interviews with numerous current and former officials from the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, State Department and other organizations, as well as members of Congress. They were drawn from a nearly two-year review of the US classification system.

The review comes as the White House and Congress work to reduce the huge amounts of classified documents held by executive branch organizations. Meanwhile, senior officials said the White House’s choice to share intelligence about Russia’s impending invasion of Ukraine last year with allies and the public showed there was a real value in doing so.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House is currently drafting an executive order that will reform the classification system. Generally speaking, every recent presidential administration except Donald Trump’s has issued some kind of executive order changing classification policies, but open government experts say those earlier efforts haven’t really done much. -something to prevent the overclassification problem from getting worse.

The study cited instances where overclassification appeared to compromise US national security, such as by slowing military innovation, complicating military space operations, and hampering private sector collaboration to strengthen defense against cyberattacks.

In an interview, Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of NPEC, said: “What I heard was quite appalling: officials who had lost the plot, keeping our soldiers, our innovators, our friends, our legislators and the public in ignoring key information needed to defend the nation.”

NPEC, a neutral organization established in the 1990s with a focus on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and other WMD, has received grants from numerous foundations to study the problem of overclassification. One of the most strictly guarded categories of secrets by the US government is information regarding nuclear weapons.

After the discovery of confidential documents in the homes and offices of President Biden, former President Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, the security of sensitive documents by the US government has recently received considerable attention. Department of Justice special advocates review situations involving Messrs. Biden and Trump.

Current and past officials have said documents originating from the federal government are not normally classified until official or automated software marks them as secret, top secret or some other category. The overclassification, however, is the result of bureaucratic tendencies, officials say, which tend to hide potentially embarrassing or problematic material from the public or to interpret classification guidelines cautiously for fear that a document might contain sensitive information.

The amount of information the government considers classified is unknown to the general public, although open government advocates estimate it to be in the billions of documents. Recent recommendations from senators, government officials and academics to use automated technology to sort and declassify more files are supported by the NPEC report.

The “extreme secrecy” surrounding so-called special access programs, a highly restricted and compartmentalized category of information that has grown rapidly in recent years, has caused specific problems, according to the analysis. According to people familiar with the situation, White House workers drafting the next executive order are focused on reforming special access programs.

The report stated that “Even the expert staff of the few congressional committees intended to oversee these SAPs rarely have access to them – and when they do, the restrictions and numerous programs are so stringent that meaningful oversight is virtually impossible.”

One of the problems cited in the document is the abundance of ambiguous and inconsistent manuals for classifying government secrets, which has created uncertainty about what is considered classified and forced US officials to restrict access. to an excessive amount of documents.

The initiative of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency was highlighted in the study. It was launched about seven years ago after officials discovered it was taking too long to release photos and information to soldiers on the front lines. According to the study, US forces in Afghanistan have sometimes been forced to forego waiting for the delivery of classified photographs in favor of purchasing lower resolution data from unclassified commercial sources.

Upon investigation, the NGA found that its employees used 65 separate categorization guides, many of which were leftovers from the agencies that were merged into the NGA when it was created. The agency merged its manuals into one constantly updated manual as a solution, which the report hailed as a success.

The NGA said in a statement that its new approach to categorization has allowed it to disseminate its intelligence products more freely and widely after briefing the NPEC task force in September 2021.

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