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Security Classification of Information: Table of Contents

Chapter 9.

Information that is not per se classified is sometimes classified because its association with other information implicitly or explicitly reveals additional information that is classified. 1, 2, 3 Classification of associations is sometimes referred to as "classification in context." Classification in context is specifically authorized by EO 12356.1 It should not be confused with classification of compilations of information, which is a topic discussed extensively in the next chapter.

Classification of information because of its association with other information frequently occurs with respect to items of hardware or materials used to fabricate classified hardware. The Department of Defense Handbook for Writing Security Classification Guidance contains the following:

Unclassified off-the-shelf items, unless modified in some particular way to make them perform differently, can never be classified even though they constitute a critical element, become an integral part of a classified end product, or produce a properly classified effect. However, the association of otherwise unclassified hardware with a particular effort or product may reveal something classified about that effort or product.4

Thus, a commercially available item of hardware by itself can never be classified, but its association with a classified project may cause that hardware to be classified when it is associated with that project.5 For example, shipment of a hardware item to a defense contractor whose only product is one classified hardware subsystem may cause the fact of shipment to be classified if the item would reveal classified information about the subsystem.6 However, if the facility has many activities and products, materials may be procured by the plant on an unclassified basis if there is otherwise no link to a classified use.

A chemical or other material may be unclassified per se but when it is associated with a classified process or project such that the association indicates a classified use of that chemical or material, then the association is classified.

In some instances, the presence of a certain individual's name on the distribution list of an otherwise unclassified document may cause that document to be classified. For example, if the name of the manager of a classified project appears on a report's distribution list and if the association of the subject-matter of the report with the classified project is classified, then the report should be classified if the appearance of the manager's name on the distribution list indicates that the subject of the report is of interest to the classified project. As another example, the association of a person with a classified contract (e.g., as a consultant) may reveal the classified subject of that contract if that person's scientific career has been focused on a narrow specialty that is classified with respect to that contract.7 Similarly, if an expert in a particular technological area visits a classified facility, and the classified facility's interest in that particular technological area is classified, then the fact that the expert visited that facility (e.g., as revealed by travel records and visitor logs) should be classified. When such classification is required, the individual usually travels under an assumed name. This was frequently done in the Manhattan Project and led to many interesting stories about how slips-of-the-tongue were covered up when the visitor was referred to by his real name rather than his assumed name.

Classification by association is sometimes a reason why the United States does not declassify information that has been published in another nation. For example, the information may have a national security use which the adversaries have not yet discovered. If the originating U.S. program published that information, then the information would be linked to that program and could reveal the information's national security use. This problem could be avoided if the U.S. information were published by someone not connected with the program that developed the information. An example has been cited whereby a document was written by one person and published, unclassified, under the name of another person because the document would have been classified if issued by the true author.8 However, when the national security use of an item of information is reasonably obvious, then the information should not be disclosed even when disassociated from the originating program.9 For example, structural materials that are suitable for containing liquid uranium in foundry work are also suitable for containing liquid uranium in other applications. If the use in other applications is classified, then the use in foundry work should be classified.

In recent years, sites on which classified federal facilities are located have been subject to increased oversight of current activities and extensive review of past activities, especially with respect to releases of chemicals to the environment. Such reviews have been, and are being, carried out by other federal agencies, by state regulatory agencies, and by special investigating teams. Frequently the reviewing groups request "raw" data which identify all chemicals (and perhaps their concentrations) detected in atmospheric releases, liquid effluent, groundwater samples, and soil samples with respect to specific facilities or locations within a site, at the site boundary, or in the vicinity of a site. Some site activities may have involved, or currently involve, the use of materials that are per se unclassified but are classified when associated with a site or a specific facility at that site (e.g., a classified burial ground or a building housing a classified manufacturing process). Therefore, such raw monitoring data must be carefully examined before it is released as unclassified to determine whether the data reveal patterns or trends that could link a specific chemical to a classified use.


1. Executive Order 12356, Fed. Reg., 47, 14874 (Apr. 6, 1982), 1.3(b).

2. U.S. Department of Energy, "Identification of Classified Information," Office of Classification, December 1991, Chap. IV, Part B, 3.

3. U.S. Department of Defense, Information Security Program Regulation, DoD 5200.1-R, June 1986, 2-211.

4. U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Defense Handbook for Writing Security Classification Guidance, DoD 5200.1-H, March 1986, 4.2(b).

5. C.D. Garrett, "Classifying Hardware," J. Natl. Class. Mgmt. Soc., 4(1), 15-20 (1968), p. 15. Herafter cited as "Garrett."

6. Garrett, p. 18.

7. P. Stagner, "Classification Management Panel," J. Natl. Class. Mgmt. Soc., 23, 25-29 (1987), p. 28.

8. T.S. Church, "Panel-- Science & Technology and Classification Management," comments during the discussion period, J. Natl. Class. Mgmt. Soc., 2, 57-58 (1966).

9. U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Guidebook for the Authorized Classifier, Division of Classification, p. 6 (approx. 1973).

On to Chapter Ten.

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