[Intelforum] Secrecy News -- 09/22/10
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from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 75
September 22, 2010
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
** DARPA SEEKS TECHNOLOGY TO SUPPORT DECLASSIFICATION
** A LOOK BACK AT "CLASSIFICATION MANAGEMENT"
DARPA SEEKS TECHNOLOGY TO SUPPORT DECLASSIFICATION
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has issued a new
solicitation to industry and academia in an attempt "to discover new
technologies to support declassification." Researchers are invited to
submit ideas for innovative approaches to declassification that will
support the National Declassification Center in achieving its goals.
Can technology actually make a difference in declassification? It seems
clear that it can, at least within certain limits.
One thing that technology cannot do is to render a decision about exactly
what should be classified or declassified. That is a policy question
which is dependent on a complex, rapidly changing factual environment
(e.g. what related information is already available in the public domain)
as well as a largely subjective threat assessment (e.g. what damage might
conceivably result from disclosure and what benefits might ensue). Such a
decision does not easily lend itself to a technological formula.
Besides that, the executive order that governs the national security
classification system is permissive, not mandatory; it allows the
classification of eligible information, but does not require it. So any
algorithm that dictates the continued classification of a certain category
of information is likely to be wrong at least sometimes.
However, the declassification process is composed of several discrete
steps, many or all of which could be facilitated by new technologies.
These steps include the collection and assembly of records for review, the
circulation of records to reviewers as needed, the actual review and
redaction process, and the distribution of the declassified records, among
others -- each of which might be streamlined and expedited by new
So, for example, if it were possible to routinely incorporate the
digitization of records into the declassification process, and to make the
digitized records available online so that readers would not have to come
to the National Archives or to the Presidential Libraries just to view
them, that action alone would multiply the utility of the declassification
process many times over.
But perhaps the strongest contribution that technology could make involves
the future declassification of records that are being classified today.
Classified records that are being created now could be tagged in such a
way as to expedite their ultimate declassification. In fact, the goal
should be to eliminate the need for declassification processing
altogether, or as far as possible. Instead, most classified records
should literally be self-declassifying. Their classification controls
should expire and be automatically canceled. In principle, this ought to
be readily achievable.
The Public Interest Declassification Board will hold a public session on
the potential role of new technology in declassification on Thursday,
September 23 at the National Archives. The agenda is here:
The new DARPA solicitation was reported in "Darpa Wants You To Build An
Anti-Secrecy App" by Spencer Ackerman in Wired Danger Room, September 14.
A LOOK BACK AT "CLASSIFICATION MANAGEMENT"
The theory and practice of national security classification policy in the
late cold war years are exemplified and explored in back issues of
Classification Management, the journal of the National Classification
Management Society (NCMS), which is the professional society of
classification officers and other security professionals. Several back
issues of the journal are now available online.
"Security Classification is the black sheep of the Information Science
family," wrote C.C. Carnes in the first issue of Classification Management
in 1965 (p.15). "Everyone else is trying to expedite the flow of
information. People working in the field of Security Classification are
trying to impede, control, and limit the flow of information. However, we
should not be blamed for this apparent perversity. It serves a purpose."
That purpose is discussed in depth and detail and with notable candor.
"LIMDIS controls came into existence largely to replace bogus security
markings such as SNTK, MK, and CNTK," explained Raymond P. Schmidt of the
Navy (NCMS Viewpoints 1992, at p. 34).
While much of the security policy content of the journals is now obsolete,
they retain historical, sociological and perhaps even anthropological
The first couple of issues of the journal comprised "virtually the entire
body of published information on the professional aspects of
classification management" at that time, wrote NCMS President (and ACDA
official) Richard L. Durham in 1966 (Vol. 2, p. 4).
A wide array of security policy issues were addressed over the years in
Classification Management, including the dissemination of scientific and
technological information, the conduct of classified research and
development on university campuses, patent secrecy, and the unauthorized
disclosure of classified information.
In the 1972 edition, a panel of reporters and government officials
discussed the impact and meaning of the Pentagon Papers for classification
management and freedom of the press (Vol. 8, pp. 64-75).
In 1990, Steven Garfinkel, the former director of the Information Security
Oversight Office, memorably discussed "not the highlights, not the
triumphs, but some of the low points" of his career as ISOO director up to
that point. "This is my tenth anniversary speech. Ushers, please bar the
doors." (Vol. 26, pp.6-9).
The National Classification Management Society kindly granted permission
to post several issues of Classification Management and NCMS Viewpoints on
the Federation of American Scientists website here:
The National Classification Management Society website is here:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the
Federation of American Scientists.
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