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Security Classification of Information: Table of Contents

Appendix E.


The earliest intelligence activities of the United States were carried out by the Committee on Secret Correspondence of the Continental Congress. This committee was created on November 29, 1775, to correspond with "friends" in other parts of the world.1 This committee even had authority to keep certain information secret from the Continental Congress. For example, when the Continental Congress requested certain information from the committee on May 10, 1776, it authorized the committee to withhold "the names of the persons they have employed, or with whom they have corresponded."*, 2


Intelligence operations generally concern either information gathering or covert operations. Most intelligence information is obtained from open sources, but some is gathered clandestinely. Executive Order (EO) 12356 permits classification of information about intelligence activities or intelligence sources or methods.3

Intelligence activities usually are categorized as either counterintelligence or foreign intelligence. The Department of Defense (DoD) has defined counterintelligence and foreign intelligence as follows:

Intelligence information could also encompass foreign government information, which may be classified under Sect. 1.3(a)(3) of EO 12356.

Unauthorized disclosure of intelligence sources or methods is presumed to cause damage to the national security.5

Intelligence sources and methods are "the heart of all intelligence operations."6 The following definition of a confidential source is given in EO 12356:

"Confidential source" means any individual or organization that has provided, or that may reasonably be expected to provide, information to the United States on matters pertaining to the national security with the expectation, express or implied, that the information and relationship, or both, be held in confidence.7

The Supreme Court has defined an intelligence source as follows: "An intelligence source provides, or is engaged to provide, information the [Central Intelligence] Agency needs to fulfill its statutory obligations."8 The DoD has defined an intelligence source as "A person or technical means providing intelligence."4

Important sources of intelligence information must be classified. Disclosure of the identity of a source would essentially prevent the source from being of further use (the adversary would take steps to close that source) and would probably endanger the life of the identified source.* The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 19829 provides penalties for unauthorized disclosure of intelligence agents and sources—either directly by someone who has access to classified information about those agents and sources or by someone who is trying to identify and expose covert agents.10

DoD has defined an intelligence method as "Any process, mode of analysis, means of gathering data, or processing system or equipment used to produce intelligence."4 Disclosure of intelligence methods would allow the target nation to develop countermeasures and stop the flow of intelligence information. With respect to intelligence gathering by technological methods, it costs much less to negate a system then to develop and deploy the system.11 Therefore, it is important to classify and protect the specific techniques used to gather intelligence. Classified information on intelligence methods might be disclosed indirectly by intelligence reports, because their content may give clues as to the identity of methods (or agents) used to gather the information. Consequently, the products of intelligence are frequently classified because they contain information that reveals an intelligence source or method.12

Section 102(d)(3) of the National Security Act of 194713 makes the Director of Central Intelligence responsible for protecting intelligence sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure. The director has "very broad authority to protect all sources of intelligence information from disclosure."14

50 U.S.C. Sect. 413 concerns congressional oversight of intelligence operations. It requires Congress to establish procedures to protect against unauthorized disclosure of intelligence sources and methods.

DoD has developed some basic considerations for classification of intelligence information. Those considerations are essentially as follows:15

Normally, intelligence will remain classified for a longer duration than other types of classified information. EO 10964, the first Executive Order to establish automatic downgrading and declassification for certain types of classified information, specifically excluded intelligence information from automatic downgrading or declassification.16 However, intelligence should only remain classified as long as is necessary to protect a certain source or method. Intelligence that is critical to an understanding of our national policy should be disseminated as soon as national security permits.


1. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Vol. 3 (for the period 1775), U.S. Govt. Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1905, p. 392; Secret Journals of the Acts and Proceedings of Congress, Vol. 2, Thomas B. Wait, Boston, 1820, p. 5.

2. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Vol. 4 (for the period 1776), U.S. Govt. Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1906, p. 345.

3. Executive Order 12356, Fed. Reg., 47, 14874 (Apr. 6, 1982), §1.3(a)(4). Hereafter cited as "EO 12356."

4. U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Defense Handbook for Writing Security Classification Guidance, DoD 5200.1-H, March 1986, §6-2, p. 6-1. Hereafter cited as "DoD 5200.1-H."

5. EO 12356, §1.3(c).

6. Central Intelligence Agency v. Sims, 471 U.S. 159, 167 (1985).

7. EO 12356, §6.1(f).

8. Central Intelligence Agency v. Sims, 471 U.S. 159, 177 (1985).

9. 50 U.S.C. §421-426 (1982).

10. 50 U.S.C. §421(a)-(c).

11. J. Vorona, "Sources, Methods & Technology--A Means to Assess the Threat," J. Natl. Class. Mgmt. Soc., 13, 1–5 (1977), p. 1.

12. A. M. Cox, The Myths of National Security, The Perils of Secret Government, Beacon Press, Boston, 1975, p. 70.

13. 50 U.S.C. §403(d)(3).

14. Central Intelligence Agency v. Sims, 471 U.S. 159, 168–169 (1985).

15. DoD 5200.1-H, §6.3.

16. Executive Order 10964, "Amendment of Executive Order No. 10501, Entitled `Safeguarding Official Information in the Interests of the United States,'" Fed. Reg., 26, 8932, §1(B) (Sept. 22, 1961).

On to Appendix F.

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