from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2016, Issue No. 77
September 14, 2016

Secrecy News Blog:


The Department of Justice has streamlined its national security classification activities over the last several years, resulting in the production of a diminishing number of secrets, according to a new report from the Department's Inspector General.

Specifically, the IG found:

In short, there has been "a marked shift in classification behavior throughout DOJ," the IG report said.

See Follow-up Audit of the DOJ's Implementation of and Compliance with Certain Classification Requirements, second audit under the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010, September 2016.

(The IG report also identified some areas for improvement, including more appropriate use of the ORCON dissemination marking, and other classification practices, especially at the Drug Enforcement Administration.)

The reduced scope of national security secrecy at the Justice Department has been paralleled throughout much of the executive branch in recent years, such that the production of new secrets in the last two years is at the lowest levels reported in several decades. ("Number of New Secrets in 2015 Near Historic Low," Secrecy News, July 29, 2016). By this measure, at least, one might even conclude that the Obama Administration is the most transparent ever.

While the systemic reduction of national security secrecy does not resolve all (or any) remaining disputes over secrecy policy, it does help to clarify them and perhaps to render them somewhat more tractable.

"There's more work to be done here [on revising classification policy]," said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week at a forum of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. "And at some point, there will need to be, I believe, a fairly fundamental change in the classification system, not just in the I.C. but across the government."

"The basic structure [of the classification system] is of course born out of a hard copy paper era and the rules we have today really aren't compatible with the technology and the way we conduct our business. So at some point, I think there'll be -- have to be a fundamental change. In the meantime, I'm kind of [doing], you know, what I can within the confines of the current system," DNI Clapper said.


For at least the past six months, and perhaps longer, the Federation of American Scientists website has been blocked by U.S. Cyber Command. This week it was unblocked.

The "block" imposed by Cyber Command meant that employees throughout the Department of Defense who attempted to access the FAS website on their government computers were unable to do so. Instead, they were presented with a notice stating: "You have attempted to access a blocked website. Access to this website has been blocked for operational reasons by the DOD Enterprise-Level Protection System."

The basis for the Cyber Command block is unclear, and official documentation of the decision that we requested has not yet been provided. In all likelihood, it is due to the presence on the FAS website of a small number of currently classified documents that were obtained in the public domain.

The basis for the removal of the block is likewise unclear, though we know that a number of DoD employees complained about the move and advised US Cyber Command that direct access to the FAS website was needed for them to perform their job.

The record of a 2015 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on Implementing the Department of Defense Cyber Strategy was published last month.


"With few exceptions, sea levels are rising relative to the coastlines of the contiguous United States, as well as parts of the Alaskan and Hawaiian coastlines," a new report from the Congressional Research Service observes.

"Although the extent of future sea-level rise remains uncertain, sea-level rise is anticipated to have a range of effects on U.S. coasts. It is anticipated to contribute to flood and erosion hazards, permanent or temporary land inundation, saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwaters, and changes in coastal terrestrial and estuarine ecosystems."

The new CRS report reviews the policy choices that Congress could make to meet the challenges posed by rising sea levels. See Sea-Level Rise and U.S. Coasts: Science and Policy Considerations, September 12, 2016:

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Dakota Access Pipeline: Siting Controversy, CRS Insight, September 9, 2016:

Paris Agreement: United States, China Move to Become Parties to Climate Change Treaty, CRS Insight, September 12, 2016:

The Microsoft Ireland Decision: U.S. Appeals Court Rules that ECPA Does Not Require Internet Service Providers To Produce Electronic Communications Stored Overseas, CRS Legal Sidebar, September 12, 2016:

The Financial CHOICE Act: Policy Issues, September 12, 2016:

Domestic Content Restrictions: The Buy American Act and Complementary Provisions of Federal Law, updated September 12, 2016:

House of Representatives v. Burwell and Congressional Standing to Sue, September 12, 2016:

Military Retirement: Background and Recent Developments, updated September 12, 2016:


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

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