from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 96
November 1, 2004


Stung by charges that it improperly classified records such as the Taguba report on abuse of Iraqi prisoners, the Department of Defense has undertaken an initiative to combat overclassification through increased oversight and training.

"We agree that there are issues related to excessive classification," said Robert Rogalski, Director of Security, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Counterintelligence and Security) "and that's why we have processes in place to ensure classified data can be reviewed and declassified."

"The over classification [of the Taguba report] was not done with malfeasance, but as a result of the tempo of operations, lack of training and oversight," he told Secrecy News. "DoD information is not classified or otherwise withheld from public disclosure to protect the government from criticism or embarrassment."

Mr. Rogalski outlined a new Pentagon initiative to address the broader overclassification problem, which includes updated classification guidance, improved training, and increased internal and external oversight of classification decisions.

"We need to continue to aggressively pursue clarifying the [classification] policies and educating the people who must implement them," he said.

Further details of the DoD response to overclassification were spelled out in an October 29, 2004 reply from Mr. Rogalski to a query from Secrecy News posted here:

The Pentagon initiative was praised by William Leonard, Director of the Information Security Oversight Office.

"I am impressed by the ... actions undertaken by DoD," he wrote in a final response to a complaint filed by FAS regarding the overclassification of the Taguba report (SN, 05/07/04).

Both he and Mr. Rogalski noted that as of October 15, the majority of the Taguba report has been formally declassified and released (pursuant to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU).

See Mr. Leonard's October 29 letter here:


"Information may only be classified if it meets the requirements established by the President," wrote Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in an unusual memo on classification policy that he dispatched in September to all military commands.

"It is important to state that classifiers shall not: a) use classification to conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; b) classify information to prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency; c) classify information to prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of national security," Secretary Rumsfeld wrote, echoing the requirements of the executive order on classification.

Overclassification is not a new problem. So what made the Pentagon send out such a reminder (and undertake the other steps noted above) now?

Better ask the Pentagon, said ISOO director William Leonard, who cautioned against being like the proverbial rooster who thinks his crowing causes the sun to rise.

Pentagon officials would not engage the question directly on the record. But there seem to be several factors at work.

First, there was the controversy created by the classification of the Taguba report on abuse of Iraqi prisoners and related secrecy actions. Thus, in his memo Secretary Rumsfeld specifically called for "corrective action... at DoD components that generate information related to detainees and prisoner abuse...."

That basic concern was amplified at an August 24, 2004 hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Security chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT). Chairman Shays elicited the startling remark from Pentagon official Carol Haave that perhaps 50% of Pentagon information is overclassified. (SN, 08/25/04).

In case anyone missed the point, it was prominently reiterated in a Washington Post editorial on August 28 and in an Associated Press story that ran on the Post Federal Page on September 3.

On September 16, Secretary Rumsfeld sent out his memo to all commands. A copy was obtained by Secrecy News and is posted here:


Secrecy News was perhaps too hasty in proclaiming the healing power of declassification when it concerns the POW/MIA issue (SN, 10/30/04). Quite a few readers wrote to express their dissatisfaction with the Senate investigation of the matter led by Senator John F. Kerry.

"There are thousands of documents still withheld and many still classified and hidden," according to one researcher. "The POW/MIA Select Committee [chaired by Sen. Kerry] was a miserable failure in accomplishing its objective in determining the fate of America's POW/MIAs.... Please have your research assistants make a less superficial inquiry into the subject matter you report on."

"Opening up classified files does more harm than good because it presents a flood of stuff that creates the impression of a great release of information," contended another writer. "[The Select Committee material] was great in terms of volume, but a total fraud in terms of quality. Little information of real value was released. Just stuff to keep people occupied and out of the way."

"I admire your work, enjoy your email missives, and I am also a strong advocate of open and accountable government," wrote another. "However, I have to call you on your mention of the Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs as an example of government transparency. It was in fact an egregious example of a well orchestrated cover-up-in- plain-sight used to obfuscate the fact that our government forsook thousands of POWs."

Others wrote in to express their agreement with Secrecy News.

"This one was excellent," affirmed one reader. "Kerry deserves credit for that work which only he and McCain could do. The POW/MIA issue was, indeed, a perfect issue for sunshine policies and the point you have made is one that no one else would make."

"I'd endorse what you say about Kerry's record as an investigator," wrote another, "both for the POW/MIA report and also for his report with Senator Hank Brown on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International which remains the single most thorough and comprehensive document about what remains (for the moment) the world's largest ever banking scandal."

The text of that 1992 report on the BCCI affair is here:

On the other hand, "I thought you were too kind to Bush," wrote another correspondent.

"I would take exception to your characterization of his policies as within the parameters of the law and Constitution. I think the Supreme Court said clearly that his detention of Hamdi and even the prisoners at Guantanamo was beyond any constitutional or legal authority. This administration has been quick to come up with novel but unsupported legal theories to justify whatever actions they want to take. We have seen this with their memos on the Geneva convention (the most recent thing about allowing the CIA to take prisoners out of Iraq for detention and interrogation). And Bush's 're-write' of the Presidential Records Act can only be read as the work of someone who doesn't care what the statute says."

"Well, we know how you're voting," wrote one psychic reader.


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

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