from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 15
February 14, 2011

Secrecy News Blog:


The Central Intelligence Agency has taken no action to carry out the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review, a mandatory effort to eliminate obsolete or unnecessary classification practices.

The Fundamental Review is a systematic attempt to combat overclassification by subjecting thousands of current classification instructions to critical scrutiny and revision. It was required in President Obama's December 2009 executive order 13526 (section 1.9), which came into effect in June 2010. "These reviews can be extremely important in changing the habits and the practices of classifiers throughout government," said William H. Leary of the National Security Staff last year. But that will be true only if the required reviews are actually implemented.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request for CIA records on its implementation of the review process thus far, CIA reported last week that "We did not locate any records responsive to your request."

This does not necessarily imply that the CIA is being insubordinate or that the Fundamental Review will not eventually be performed there, an Administration official said, noting that agencies were given two years -- until June 2012 -- to complete the Review process. The CIA's latest statement "means only that they have not done anything to date," the official said. "There are a ton of things that agencies have to do that did not come with a two-year implementation window."

Nevertheless, it is not very encouraging to see that the CIA, which is one of the government's most prolific classifiers, evidently does not consider the Fundamental Review to be a matter of urgency and a high priority. Its lethargy is in contrast with the energetic response of the Department of Energy, which developed a detailed workplan last November to implement the Review. (See "A Bumpy Start for Fundamental Classification Review," Secrecy News, January 18, 2011.) The Department of Homeland Security began its Fundamental Review even earlier, in July, according to internal DHS correspondence also released under FOIA.

Reducing government reliance on secrecy is an appropriate response to current technological and political realities, according to a report released by the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Law and National Security ("No More Secrets: National Security Strategies for a Transparent World," January 2011). It would also reduce the nation's growing susceptibility to unauthorized disclosures, and would therefore enhance national security. "The report recommends that the government operate with fewer secrets to gain a significant advantage over those who 'continue to cling to traditional notions of indefinite information monopoly'."

The ABA report did not present an actionable plan that agencies could adopt to reduce the number of national security secrets they keep. But that is what the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review was intended to provide. The Review's success -- or its failure -- will determine, for better or worse, the feasibility of reversing the growth of national security secrecy.

I made a pitch for rigorous implementation of the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review in the current issue of Nature Medicine. See "Review of classification rules represents an opportunity, even for medicine," February 2011 (sub. req'd):

See also "ISOO Spurs Agencies to Perform Classification Review," Secrecy News, February 2, 2011:


The Congressional Research Service took a decidedly skeptical view of the Obama Administration's Open Government Initiative in a recently updated report. The report called into question not only the implementation of the Administration's transparency policy but also its underlying rationale.

"Arguably, releasing previously unavailable datasets to the public increases transparency," the report granted. "The new datasets offer the public more information than was previously available, making the particular issue area more transparent. But this type of transparency does not give Congress or the public much insight into how the federal government itself operates or executes policies," the CRS report said.

Thus, "the dataset on child safety seats released by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NTHSA), for example, increases public knowledge of child safety seats and may inform a consumer's future purchases, but it does not affect the general transparency of NHTSA's operations."

But even bona fide transparency may not be altogether positive, the CRS report suggested. "Increased transparency and mandatory public participation requirements can slow down government operations by elongating the deliberative process. Increased participation may increase trust in the federal government while concurrently reducing the speed of government action. Additionally, increased government transparency may prompt security and privacy concerns."

In lieu of any conclusion, the CRS report equivocated that "Congress can decide whether to codify any of the new Obama Administration transparency policies. On the other hand, Congress can decide whether to enact a law prohibiting the implementation of any of the open government policies. Congress could also leave these policy decisions up to the executive branch."

The bulk of the CRS report was written last year, but it was updated last month. See "The Obama Administration's Open Government Initiative: Issues for Congress," January 28, 2011:

Last week, the Obama Administration withdrew a pending proposal to enhance federal contract transparency. "Incredibly, today's decision would seem to place the Obama Administration in opposition [to] subsequent transparency legislation co-sponsored by then-Senator Obama," wrote Scott Amey of the Project on Government Oversight.


The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will be "reduced in its size and budget," DNI James R. Clapper Jr. told the House Intelligence Committee last week.

"We, I think, all understand that we're going to be in for some belt-tightening. And given, you know, the funding that we have been given over the last 10 years since 9/11, that's probably appropriate," DNI Clapper said on February 10.

"Shortly after I became DNI, exactly six months ago today, I began a thorough review of the organization. I examined the intelligence reform law, other statutes and executive orders, and the activities that they direct the DNI to execute," he said.

"Upon review, I decided to reduce or eliminate functions not required by law or executive order that are not core missions of the DNI. I also identified elements that should transfer out of the ODNI to another agency who would serve as the executive agent on my behalf and carry out these services of [common] concern on behalf of the ODNI. In other words, we don't need to do everything on the DNI staff itself."

"Based on this efficiencies review, the Office of the DNI is being reduced in size and budget," DNI Clapper said. The details of the reduction remain to be spelled out.

See, relatedly, these updated Congressional Research Service reports on intelligence.

"Director of National Intelligence Statutory Authorities: Status and Proposals," January 12, 2011:

"Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Acquisition: Issues for Congress, January 20, 2011:

"Intelligence Authorization Legislation: Status and Challenges," January 20, 2011:

"Satellite Surveillance: Domestic Issues," January 13, 2011:

"The National Intelligence Council: Issues and Options for Congress," January 10, 2011:

"Intelligence Estimates: How Useful to Congress?", January 6, 2011:


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

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