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Security Classification of Information: Table of Contents

Appendix C.

A basic principle in determining the classification of military operations information is said to be that strategic doctrine and overall deployment plans (defense policy) need not be classified but that specific operational targeting plans and command arrangements (the means and methods to execute the policy) should be classified.1, 2 Strategic deterrence includes letting an adversary know "in considerable detail" exactly what the opponent can do but not letting the adversary know how it can be done (to prevent the adversary from developing countermeasures). 3

Some properties of military operations information (operational secrets) are that it is compact, understandable, arbitrary, subject to change, and perishable. Explanations of those terms are as follows: 2

Another characteristic of this type of information is that there is generally no advantage to making the information public—in not keeping it a secret. For example, after it had been determined that a national goal was to liberate continental western Europe, there was no need to have public input on the exact date and time of the invasion of Normandy in World War II. Operational secrets are part of a category of secrets known as subjective secrets (see Chapter 2).

The Department of Defense (DoD) provides guidance in classifying military operations information. The following information is taken from DoD's Department of Defense Handbook for Writing Security Classification Guidance. 5

While there are no hard and fast rules for classification of military operations information, and while each Military Service and command may require a unique approach to operations security (OPSEC), there are basic concepts which can be applied. What must be protected are operational concepts and their applications, and the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses of the plan. The element of surprise is essential to military effectiveness in both tactical and strategic operations, and requires the continuous concealment of capabilities and intentions. OPSEC is the principal means of achieving that concealment.*, 6

Military operations information is defined for the purpose of this Handbook as information pertaining to a strategic or tactical military action, including training, movement of troops and equipment, supplies, and other information vital to the success of any battle or campaign. 7

Successful battle operations depend largely upon our ability to assess correctly the capability and intention of enemy forces at each stage of the battle and to communicate an effective battle doctrine throughout our forces. [To this might be added "and to keep the enemy from knowing, in advance, our capabilities and intentions during the battle."] Classifiable information would include:

Information related to operational plans (whether executed or not, presented in whole or in part) that if disclosed could be expected to cause damage to the United States, must be protected.8

In considering classification guidance for operations, there may be good reason to classify more information about the operation in the beginning than will be necessary later. Certain elements of information such as troop movements may no longer require protection after a certain date or event. When this point is reached, downgrading or even declassification should be considered.8

A classification guide should clearly identify the elements of information pertaining to the operational plan for which classification guidance is required. Classification shall continue only so long as unauthorized disclosure would result in damage to the national security, which may be an indefinite period of time in the case of unexecuted long range plans.9

Example items to be considered for classification include the following:10


1. J. H. Kahan, panel member, "Workshop A--Lifetime Cycles for Security Classification," J. Natl. Class. Mgmt. Soc., 7, 52–56 (1971), p. 55.

2. D. J. Murphy, "Some Thoughts on Defense Policy," J. Natl. Class. Mgmt. Soc.. 16, 1–3 (1980), p. 1.

3. W. P. Raney, "The Sea Lanes & Their Challenges," J. Natl. Class. Mgmt. Soc., 13, 17–22 (1977), p. 18.

4. L. N. Ridenour, "Military Security & the Atomic Bomb," Fortune, 32, 170–171, 216, 218, 221, 223 (November 1945), p. 171.

5. U.S. Department of Defense, "Classifying Military Operations Information," Chap. 5 in Department of Defense Handbook for Writing Security Classification Guidance, DoD 5200.1-H, March 1986. Hereafter cited as "DoD 5200.1-H."

6. DoD 5200.1-H, 5-1.

7. DoD 5200.1-H, 5-2.

8. DoD 5200.1-H, 5-4.

9. DoD 5200.1-H, 5-5.

10. DoD 5200.1-H, 5-6.

On to Appendix D.

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