from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2013, Issue No. 51
June 3, 2013

Secrecy News Blog:


The Inspector General at each government agency that classifies national security information is required by the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010 to review the agency's classification program as part of an effort to combat overclassification. Those reviews are now underway. But if properly performed, they could put the Inspectors General at odds with senior officials at their agency who habitually overclassify.

In its latest semi-annual report to Congress last week, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG) cited its ongoing work to evaluate Department classification activity.

"The OIG is reviewing the Department's compliance with the Reducing Over-Classification Act to assess whether applicable classification policies, procedures, rules, and regulations have been adopted, followed, and effectively administered; and to identify policies, procedures, rules, or management practices that may result in misclassification of material," the DoJ IG report said.

But at the Department of Justice, "misclassification of material" is arguably attributable to the senior leadership of the Department, if not the White House itself.

On May 22, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to Congress to formally acknowledge that four U.S. citizens had been killed in counterterrorism operations, including Anwar al-Aulaqi and three others. The death of Al-Aulaqi (and all but one of the others) at the hands of U.S. forces had of course been previously reported and had long been implicitly or explicitly acknowledged by U.S. officials.

But remarkably, Attorney General Holder wrote that this information "until now has been properly classified."

In other words, information that everyone around the world who cared to know had already known for years was, according to Attorney General Holder's letter to Congress, "properly classified" until May 22, 2013. The disconnect between objective reality and official classification policy could hardly be more apparent.

Whether the DoJ Inspector General is prepared to take the Attorney General to task for tolerating or promoting this type of misclassification of material remains to be seen.

From another point of view, it could be argued that the Attorney General's classification judgments are beyond reproach, particularly since the President's executive order on classification makes the Attorney General the final arbiter of the order's requirements (EO 13526, section 6.2c). If the Attorney General says something is properly classified, then by the terms of the executive order it is properly classified-- by definition.

From that perspective, what the President himself once referred to as "the problem of over-classification" simply vanishes. The DoJ Inspector General could then report that the classification system is functioning perfectly, and that it is performing as intended.

The first of two rounds of Inspector General evaluations of classification activity is due to be completed by September 30, 2013.


New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that CRS is not authorized to release to the public include the following.

Closing the Guantanamo Detention Center: Legal Issues, May 30, 2013

"This report provides an overview of major legal issues likely to arise as a result of executive and legislative action to close the Guantanamo detention facility. It discusses legal issues related to the transfer of Guantanamo detainees (either to a foreign country or into the United States), the continued detention of such persons in the United States, and the possible removal of persons brought into the country. It also discusses selected constitutional issues that may arise in the criminal prosecution of detainees, emphasizing the procedural and substantive protections that are utilized in different forums (i.e., federal courts, court-martial proceedings, and military commissions)."

Bangladesh Apparel Factory Collapse: Background in Brief, May 23, 2013

"The April 24, 2013, collapse of an eight-story garment factory, called Rana Plaza, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 workers. It is reportedly now considered the deadliest accident in the history of the apparel industry.... This report provides an overview of the recent tragedy in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh economic environment and culture. It also notes the responses to the tragedy, to date, from Congress, the Administration, the ILO [International Labor Organization], the Bangladesh government, and the private sector. Finally, it raises some possible issues for Congress."

Who Regulates Whom and How? An Overview of U.S. Financial Regulatory Policy for Banking and Securities Markets, May 28, 2013

"This report provides an overview of the regulatory policies of the agencies that oversee banking and securities markets and explains which agencies are responsible for which institutions, activities, and markets. Some agencies regulate particular types of institutions for risky behavior or conflicts of interest, some agencies promulgate rules for certain financial transactions no matter what kind of institution engages in them, and other agencies enforce existing rules for some institutions, but not for others. These regulatory activities are not necessarily mutually exclusive."

Airline Passenger Rights: The Federal Role in Aviation Consumer Protection, May 20, 2013

"The deregulation of the airline industry in the United States in 1978 eliminated most governmental control over most business practices of airlines. However, the federal government continues to regulate certain practices for the protection of the airlines' customers, in addition to its long-standing role in overseeing air safety.... This report examines aviation consumer protections in the post-deregulation era. It explains the roles of Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in protecting airline consumers, and discusses some major passenger rights issues and related laws and regulations."

International Food Aid Programs: Background and Issues, May 20, 2013

"For almost six decades, the United States has played a leading role in global efforts to alleviate hunger and malnutrition and to enhance world food security through the sale on concessional terms or donation of U.S. agricultural commodities. The objectives for foreign food aid include providing emergency and humanitarian assistance in response to natural or manmade disasters, and promoting agricultural development and food security. In its FY2014 budget submission to Congress, the Administration proposes major changes in the funding and structure of both emergency and development food aid programs (Food for Peace Title II).... The Administration's proposals will be fiercely debated as Congress takes up the President's budget request."

Chile: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations, May 28, 2013

Latin America and the Caribbean: Fact Sheet on Economic and Social Indicators, May 30, 2013

The 2013 Farm Bill: A Comparison of the Senate Agriculture Committee-Reported Bill (S. 954) with Current Law, May 30, 2013

Military Parents and Child Custody: State and Federal Issues, May 31, 2013

The Federal Minimum Wage: In Brief, May 30, 2013

Congressional Gold Medals, 1776-2012, May 30, 2013

Syria's Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress, May 31, 2013


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

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