Classification policy draft leaked

Secrecy watcher Steven Aftergood has obtained a draft version of the Obama administration’s new executive order tinkering with the nation’s classification system. (Downloadable here as a .pdf)

As Aftergood writes, the draft “does not represent anything like a transformation of the existing secrecy system,” though he highlights some steps that the access community would likely view as positive. These include the creation of a National Declassification Center, new procedures for reviewing the guidelines used by individual agencies to decide what should be classified, and for the first time, a hard 50 year deadline after which everything—save information that might identify human intelligence assets (read: “spies”)—must be declassified.

At the same time, the order preserves a Bush-era decision to allow America’s top intelligence official to overrule disclosure decisions made by a intergovernmental review panel, and fails to give the National Declassification Center any power to declassify documents, rather than act as a mere coordinator of other agencies’ classification decisions.

The National Security Archive, a non-governmental research library affiliated with George Washington University, and a font of secrecy wisdom, has been tweeting early reactions that gibe with Aftergood’s.

For more, read Aftergood’s full post, where he offers to a line-by-line comparison of the draft and current policy as a .pdf. And for some background, here’s a (hopefully!) relatively plain-language take on the review process that I wrote earlier this month.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.