from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 40
April 27, 2004


There was a marked increase in national security secrecy activity last year as executive branch agencies classified a total of more than 14 million new secrets, the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) reported in its latest annual report to the President.

This represents a 25% rise over the previous year in the production of "secrets."

Critics contend that the classification system is applied to significant quantities of information unnecessarily, to the detriment of national security. The ISOO report implicitly acknowledged that there is some merit to the argument.

"Allowing information that will not cause damage to national security to remain in the classification system, or to enter the system in the first instance, places all classified information at needless increased risk," said the ISOO report, published this week.

"ISOO has asked all agency heads to closely examine efforts to implement and maintain the security classification system at their agencies... This effort includes ensuring that information that requires protection is properly identified and safeguarded and, equally important, that information not eligible for inclusion in the classification system remains unclassified or is promptly declassified."

"Many senior officials will candidly acknowledge that the government classifies too much information," ISOO noted, "although oftentimes the observation is made with respect to the activities of agencies other than their own."

ISOO reported a total of 14,228,020 classification decisions by executive branch agencies in fiscal year 2003, up from 11,271,618 classification actions in FY 2002.

ISOO is an executive branch agency that oversees classification and declassification activity in the executive branch, and reports annually to the President on its findings. Housed in the National Archives, it takes policy direction from the National Security Council. Its director is J. William Leonard.

A copy of the new ISOO annual report for fiscal year 2003 is available here:


The decision to go to war is the most fateful action a President can undertake.

The fact that it was possible in our time for a President to launch a discretionary, pre-emptive war on grounds that later turned out to be erroneous only underscores the immense power that has accrued to the executive, and the comparative weakness of the other branches of government.

The evolution of this presidential power through American history up to its current efflorescence is sketched out by Louis Fisher, a constitutional scholar at the Congressional Research Service, in a newly revised edition of his book "Presidential War Power."

Even-handed but critical, Fisher concludes his analysis with a chapter on "Restoring Checks and Balances."

"Congress may stand against the President or stand behind him, but should not stand aside...," he writes.

"In going to war, members of Congress must insist that the President deliver reliable evidence, not assertions, scares, or likelihoods.... The framers [of the Constitution] valued deliberation because it strengthens the democratic process and lessens the chance of political mistakes. That fundamental value needs to govern today."

The second, revised edition of "Presidential War Power" by Louis Fisher has just been published by the University Press of Kansas. See:


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

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