Far too many documents are classified and withheld from the public than should be the case. The number of classified documents have been exploding beyond what is rational, espcially within the last decade or two. The security classification system for government documents needs to be overhauled. There needs to be a system that automatically sets certain documents to be declassified so that there is not a perpetual increase in the number of documents classified. Basically, a report entitled “Transforming the Security Classification System” published in 2012 has a good set of suggestions that would dramatically reduce the number of classified documents and provide the world with more accurate information which can be used to study history.
This report proposes a 14 point solution. I have omitted some of the more procedural points.
1. Documents should be classified into only one of two classification categories.
2. The level of classification should match the level of harm if the information were to be released.
3. Specific protection for sources or methods need to be rationalized.
4. Documents with short-term secrecy value should be set to automatically become declassified at some date in the future.
5. To help counter the over-classification bias of today, classifiers would undergo extensive training on the proper standards to use to justify a classification. Classifiers who adhere to rigorous risk management practices and determine in good faith to classify information, but are in error, would be protected from prosecution by the classification agency. This protection is necessary to counter the over-classification bias and to balance the need for secrecy with the fundamental civil need for a transparent government to pacify the population, among other policy objectives (such as facilitating the sharing of information between government departments). Furthermore, a continued tendency to classify or reclassify dubious documents would result in significant, resource-intensive future costs associated with revisiting the documents and making further determinations.
6. Storage and stockpile information about nuclear weapons from WWII through the end of the Cold War should be systematically reviewed for declassification. Most of this information is obsolete anyway but valuable for historical studies. (This category of classified materials is not covered under current declassification regulations, thus this special mention is necessary.)
7. The National Declassification Center should have greater authority to streamline the declassification system within and among various agencies.
8. Historically significant documents (those which are judged to be in highest demand by agency policymakers and historians) should be prepositioned for review (placed on a short list) by historians at the classified level. Because of the severe backlog of classified documents in line for review, most documents are not able to be reviewed and declassified at their 25 year age mark as required by Executive Order 13526, so creating a “short list” of documents that the original reviewers have judged to have a significant public interest, would result in finding such records on time for their release at the 25 year age limit.
9. Require agencies to better organize their records so that as documents near the age of review for potential declassification, they could actually be found.
Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA)
FOIA requests should be allowed for any documents that are still under a classified status. Such a request could be for purposes of partially declassifying a record to certain individuals for investigative or research purposes or could be a request for full declassification in a time frame sooner than that which would normally occur under the normal declassification timetables. Documents having been declassified would obviously not need a FOIA request. A non-refundable fee should be filed for each application and a response should be given within 60 days as to whether the request is able to be satisfied or not. Six months should be allowed for the fulfillment of a request, measured from the original date of the request.
Defense Department Approval for Sensitive Information
The US Defense Department should have plenary authority to approve or deny the trade, transfer or divulging of any type of information, product, or service from any entity to any entity, both foreign and domestic, due to national security concerns. However, such information and its reasoning must be divulged to selected high-level personnel with direct Defense Department oversight in both the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
Satellite & Launch Vehicle Information Transfer
As a rule, the United States should launch all of its own space satellites which contain significant classified technologies. Any domestic company (or foreign company) launching such satellites for the U.S. should be required to have appropriate safeguards in place to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. Information should be intensely compartmentalized to minimize the risk of unauthorized transfer.
Since it is highly impractical to accurately assign cutting edge technologies with the proper level of classification so that it balances the economic needs of the parties, the national security of various entities, the desire of engineers to share information and engage in problem-solving, and the urge of human nature to collaborate and push the technological envelope, the best solution would be to allow market forces to regulate the flow of information but only under the framework of a comprehensive (and strictly enforced) international military treaty in which all countries agree to be bound by rulings related to internal and external territorial disputes and agree to deprive themselves of all significant offensive military capabilities in exchange for the guaranteed security of their own territory from any external threat.
This way, the exchange of information of a military nature could be shared without the potentially severe consequences that currently exist because of the provision for surprise inspections of absolutely any facility in any country that is a member to this treaty. The potential for only peaceful uses of the various otherwise dangerous technologies will be virtually assured.