from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 31
March 30, 2004


Prior to the Bush Administration, the budget levels for signals intelligence at the National Security Agency became unclassified as they turned 25 years old.

But early in 2001, carried along by the new tide of official secrecy, the NSA determined that even this limited degree of historical budget accountability was excessive and had to be reversed.

"Previously, SIGINT resource information was UNCLASSIFIED if the information was 25 years or older but SECRET if less than 25 years old. It is now SECRET for all timeframes," according to a February 12, 2001 NSA policy decision obtained by Secrecy News.

Likewise, "Previously, the total personnel strength of the cryptologic community... was UNCLASSIFIED if the information was 25 years or older but CONFIDENTIAL if less than 25 years old. It is now CONFIDENTIAL for all timeframes," according to another policy decision of the same date.

These and other changes to NSA classification policy as of 2001 were itemized in an annex to the NSA classification manual, released in redacted form this week under the Freedom of Information Act. See:

Still, historical NSA budget information of the kind now deemed "classified" by the National Security Agency may be found, for example, here (thanks to David Barrett):


Even as they extended the secrecy of the total number of SIGINT personnel indefinitely, officials at the National Security Agency in 2001 simultaneously declassified the number of civilian and military personnel who work at NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, MD.


Because the Bush Administration's NSA Transition Team asked them to, in response to a request from the Maryland congressional delegation.

Besides, "it is in NSA's best interests to declassify basic civilian personnel figures in order to be able to advocate more effectively for NSA," according to an internal NSA memorandum dated January 19, 2001 obtained by Secrecy News.

In other words, in this case classification and declassification were political decisions, not national security decisions.

Another internal NSA document from April 2001 elaborated on the purely political drivers behind such classification actions.

NSA officials, it said, were "under pressure to declassify the numbers of military personnel at NSA. They are not under pressure to declassify any other numbers (e.g., number of military personnel living in Maryland or the total number of contractors employed at NSA), so those items remain classified."

It was a simple political calculation. But it had nothing to do with national security. See:

See related NSA declassification policy memoranda, released in redacted form, here:


In recent years, government agencies have removed whole libraries of information from their web sites based on a vague presentiment that the information could be used by terrorists. But this thoughtless resort to secrecy was unjustified, judging from a new RAND Corporation study.

"In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, questions were raised about whether the federal government makes geospatial information" -- such as maps and imagery -- "so readily available that terrorists and other potential enemies could exploit this information to plan new attacks. Because of this concern, many federal agencies began restricting some of their publicly available geospatial information, particularly information accessible through the Internet."

But "RAND researchers ... found no publicly accessible federal geospatial information deemed critical to meeting attackers' information needs," according to a March 25 news release.

"Although publicly available geospatial information on federal Web sites and in federal databases could potentially help terrorists select and locate a target, attackers are likely to need more detailed and current information -- better acquired from direct observation or other sources, according to the RAND study. These other sources include textbooks, non-government Web sites, trade journals and street maps."

RAND noted that "Public access to this vast quantity of federal geospatial information has many benefits for the nation."

"For example, the information is used to assist law enforcement agencies, advance scientific knowledge, inform people about environmental risks, help communities prepare and respond to natural disasters and other emergencies, create more accurate maps, assist economic development efforts, and help a wide array of government agencies do their jobs more effectively."

In order to preserve such benefits, RAND called for a reasoned analytical process, rather than a knee-jerk response, to evaluate and address the risks associated with particular information.

"Our study suggests that decisionmakers need to use an analytical process for identifying sensitive geospatial information because no 'one size fits all' set of guidelines is likely to work," according to John Baker, lead author of the RAND report, which was prepared for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

See "Mapping the Risks: Assessing the Homeland Security Implications of Publicly Available Geospatial Information," RAND Corporation, March 25 (flagged by here:


The history of presidential advisers testifying before Congress, or refusing to do so, was helpfully summarized two years ago in a report by the Congressional Research Service.

Soon it will have to be updated to include the political pirouette of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice who, it was announced today, will testify, after all, before the 9-11 Commission.

See "Presidential Advisers' Testimony Before Congressional Committees: A Brief Overview" by Harold C. Relyea and Jay R. Shampansky, April 5, 2002:

Congressional leaders oppose direct public access to CRS reports like this one.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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