- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

New executive order

The Obama administration is putting the finishing touches on an executive order on classified information that will create a new National Declassification Center to review and release government secrets.

The order will update Executive Order 12958 when signed by the president next month. The order will seek to create “a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding and declassifying national security information, including information relating to defense against transnational terrorism,” according to a copy of the draft order.

“Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their government,” the draft order states. “Also, our Nation’s progress depends on the free flow of information and fully embracing the responsibility to provide information both within the government and to the American people.”

The newest feature of the order’s policy will be the creation of the National Declassification Center within the National Archives and Records Administration for declassifying records.

The order states that protecting information is “critical to our nation’s security and demonstrating our commitment to open government through precise, accurate, and accountable application of classification standards and routine, secure and effective declassification are equally important priorities.”

The order also will create a “secure capability” for receiving information, allegations or complaints regarding “over-classification, or incorrect classification.”

It also calls for limiting the government’s ultra-secret Special Access Programs (SAPs), stating that they can be created only by the secretaries of State, Defense, Energy and Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence, or their main deputies, who must “keep the number of these programs at an absolute minimum” and only to counter an “exceptional” vulnerability or threat to specific information.

A copy of the draft order was obtained by Inside the Ring.

A Pentagon list of comments on the draft order states that the Defense Department “is adamantly opposed to any changes that would significantly increase costs without associated gains and impair our wartime mission.” The Pentagon also said it cannot meet the requirement to “immediately” set up the declassification center because of personnel issues.

The tone of the new order is oriented toward making it easier to declassify some of the millions of pages of classified data now held throughout government, which is costly to maintain.

The order states that “if there is significant doubt about the need to classify information, it shall not be classified.”

The order will keep the current three levels of classification, namely “Top Secret,” “Secret” and “Confidential.”

Information that will be classified falls into several categories, including military plans, weapons systems, or operations; foreign government information; intelligence activities, intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology; foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources; scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the national security; U.S. government programs for safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities; vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism; or the development, production, or use of weapons of mass destruction.

Most information will remain classified for 25 years when it can be automatically released, with the exception of confidential human source data. And classified data can be reclassified for longer periods. However, the new order states that “no information may remain classified indefinitely.”

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