Security classification issues have been making news for some time now. Congress is making some modest attempts to improve the system, despite pushback from the Administration. Still, large numbers of documents, particularly those produced by Congress itself, remain untouched by any reforms.

On Aug. 6, the Federation of American Scientists reported on efforts in Congress to reduce the amount of documents which are classified. HR5240, the CORRECT Act, would require a ten percent reduction in classified information within five years. It also gives more authority to the Public Interest Declassification Board and to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The changes look to establish a standard for classification decisions that would reach across all federal agencies. It establishes a review process for security clearance denials and revocations that extends past the agency itself to the Merit System Protection Board.

Unfortunately, the measure is unlikely to be acted upon in this Congress.

Erring on the Side of Security

The current document classification system dates to 1953. As it is now used, a document with one fact or  piece of data which is Top Secret renders the entire document as Top Secret. The document’s classification is that of the highest level of any paragraph in that document. As so many reports are produced by compiling information from many sources, and people assigning a security classification err on the side of greater security, the system fills with overly-classified materials.

The Public Interest Declassification Board produced a report in 2007 that has yet to be fully acted upon. The FAS points to the utter lack of a declassification process for documents produced by Congress. Transcripts of closed hearings, even those decades old, have never been declassified. The classified budget annexes to every intelligence authorization bill remain secret.

“Despite their historical significance, classified records created by the Congress are reviewed for declassification only on a hit-or-miss and relatively limited basis. As a result, the public is denied a valuable source of historically significant information,” the report said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is currently battling the Administration over the release of a Senate-produced report about the CIA’s post 9/11 detention and interrogation program.

The panel produced a report that runs 6,700 pages, the SFGate reported Aug. 10. Now Feinstein is taking on a new challenge – battling with the CIA and the Obama administration to ensure that the review, or at least its full 510-page executive summary, sees the light of day.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Committee chair, has noted that facts and other information that support the conclusions of the report have been redacted by the Administration. The Committee is not releasing the report until it is comfortable that any redactions only serve the security interests of the United States and serve no other purpose.

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Charles Simmins brings thirty years of accounting and management experience to his coverage of the news. An upstate New Yorker, he is a freelance journalist, former volunteer firefighter and EMT, and is owned by a wife and four cats.