Originally Published: 4/12/2006
By The Issue Wonk
According to Wikipedia,1 “Classified information is information to which access is restricted by law or regulation to particular classes of people. A formal security clearance is required to handle classified documents or access classified data. The clearance process requires a satisfactory background investigation.” The government classifies information “to protect it from being used to damage or endanger national security. Classification formalizes what constitutes a ‘state secret’ and accords different levels of protection based on the expected damage the information might cause in the wrong hands.”
Section 1.2 of Executive Order 132922 sets forth the categories of classification as follows:
“Top Secret” shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe. [Emphasis added.]
“Secret” shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe. [Emphasis added.]
“Confidential” shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe. [Emphasis added.]
Classification of information. “The authority to classify information originally may be exercised only by (1) the President and, in the performance of executive duties, the Vice President; (2) agency heads and officials designated by the President in the Federal Register; and (3) United States Government officials delegated this authority pursuant to paragraph (c) of this section.” In addition, those given authority to classify information can delegate this authority to others. [Section 1.3(c)]
Declassification of information. Information can be declassified automatically (see below) or may be subject to mandatory or systematic declassification review. [Section 3.3(f)] However, Section 3.1(b) states: “In some exceptional cases, however, the need to protect such information may be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure of the information, and in these cases the information should be declassified. When such questions arise, they shall be referred to the agency head or the senior agency official. That official will determine, as an exercise of discretion, whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs the damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure.”
Information that can be classified. According to Section 1.4, “Information shall not be considered for classification unless it concerns: (a) military plans, weapons systems, or operations; (b) foreign government information; (c) intelligence activities (including special activities), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology; (d) foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources; (e) scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism; (f) United States Government programs for safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities; (g) vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism; or (h) weapons of mass destruction.”
Duration of classification. At the time of classification, the classifying authority should attempt to “establish a specific date or event for declassification based upon the duration of the national security sensitivity of the information. Upon reaching the date or event, the information shall be automatically declassified.” [Section 1.5(a)] However, if the classifying authority cannot determine a date for declassification, “information shall be marked for declassification 10 years from the date of the original decision, unless the original classification authority otherwise determines that the sensitivity of the information requires that it shall be marked for declassification for up to 25 years from the date of the original decision.” [Section 1.5(b)]
Prohibitions and limitations. Section 1.7(a) says, “In no case shall information be classified in order to: (1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; (2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency; (3) restrain competition; or (4) prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security.”
On April 17, 1995 President Clinton, by Executive Order 12958,3 set up a uniform system for “classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information.” On March 25, 2003 President Bush amended this Order with Executive Order 13292.2 While 13292 has many changes,4 most pertain to procedural matters regarding the safeguarding of national security information. Some of the changes are only technical. The most important changes are as follows:
Section 1. Sections 1.1 (a)(4), 1.4(e), and 1.4(g) add the classification of information based on “transnational terrorism” grounds.
Section 1.1(c). “Foreign government information” is now a presumption for classification.
Section 1.2(b). This section, that precluded classification in any case of “significant doubt about the need to classify,” was removed.
Section 1.4(h). This is a new section that provides classification of information regarding “weapons of mass destruction.”
Section 1.7(c). New conditions are specified for the reclassification of previously declassified information.
Section 3.3(b)(8). The protection of information that “reveal[s] current vulnerabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, or projects relating to national security,” was added.
Vice Presidential Authority. 132922 adds classification authority to the Vice President and gives the Vice President access to “top secret,” “secret,” or “confidential” information. It also exempts information classified by the President’s or the Vice President’s staff from mandatory declassifying review. And, waivers for access to classified information will no longer be available to former Presidential and Vice Presidential appointees.
1 Wikipedia. Classified Information.
2 Executive Order 13292, issued by President George W. Bush, March 25, 2003.
3 Executive Order 12958, issued by President William J. Clinton, April 17, 1995.
4 See Markup of Executive Order 13292.
© The Issue Wonk, 2006