The federal government is currently undergoing a department-wide review of its national security classification policies, or Fundamental Classification Guidance Review (FCGR), in an attempt to update its policies for access to classified information.
The goal of the FCGR is to ensure each agency has guidelines in place that authorizes classification only when it is necessary to protect national security, according to a memo to executive branch officials.
A “reasonable outcome” of this review is there should be a reduction in classification activity across government wrote William Cira, Acting Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, in the memo.
The first FCGR was a two year review that began in 2010 and helped eliminate about 20 percent of the DoD’s non-compartmented security classification guides, according to the Pentagon’s final report on the review, as reported by Steven Aftergood, director of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy.
James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, sent a memo to five intelligence agencies (CIA, DIA, NGA, NSA, and NRO) urging the “personal involvement” of senior intelligence directors to take a leadership role in reviewing classification procedures. In particular, he requested four things:
- Reducing the number of Original Classification Authorities (OCA)
- Increasing discretionary declassification decisions
- Creating an IC-wide Classification Guide
- Eliminating confidential from Agency Guides
By eliminating the least protected level of confidential, Clapper said it could simplify the classification process and force agencies to focus on classifying information that could cause “demonstrable harm” if released.
“This periodic review provides an ideal platform for the Intelligence Community (IC), as stewards of the nation’s most sensitive information, to take a leading role in reducing targeted classification activities that could extend to the larger Federal government,” wrote Clapper.
Over time, agency classification becomes outdated as the threat environment changes, internal relations demand fuller disclosure and documents are declassified, wrote Aftergood. “Faced with this growing disconnect between a realistic threat appraisal and the information security response, the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review represents the secrecy system’s own attempt at self-correction.”
Aftergood said that the only effective way to handle secrecy reform is to have senior leaders involved.