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Executive order update

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, has asked senior Pentagon officials to make final comments on the revised presidential order on classified information.

Gen. Clapper stated in a Sept. 7 memorandum to senior officials that the Pentagon is leading governmentwide efforts to revise Executive Order (EO) 12958 as part of a presidential task force. The goal of the revision is “transparency and open government,” he stated.

Gen. Clapper will make clear in a letter to White House National Security Adviser James L. Jones that the Pentagon supports the final draft of the new order but remains “adamantly opposed to any EO changes that would significantly increase security and administrative costs without clear associated gains,” according to a draft obtained by Inside the Ring.

Gen. Clapper also will oppose the order if it “would have the effect of impairing our wartime mission; not significantly contribute to the president’s objective; displace agency head authorities; or not be realistically executable.”

The Pentagon’s biggest worry, the draft letter states, is the creation of the new National Declassification Center, which will require both people and money to implement.

The final draft of the new order is 34 pages long and was circulated earlier this month with a Sept. 14 deadline for any suggested changes. “It is unlikely that anything other than CRITICAL comments will be considered,” Gen. Clapper stated in a cover memo.

The final draft contains an added sentence stating that “protecting information critical to our nation’s security and demonstrating our commitment to open government through accurate and accountable application of classified standards and routine, secure and effective declassification are equally important priorities.”

Another key added provision in the final version is the new policy stating that “if there is significant doubt about the need to classify information, it shall not be classified.”

The new order will keep the three current classification levels, top-secret, secret and confidential, and will direct information classifiers that if there are doubts, data should be classified at the lowest level.

Categories of information that will be classified include military plans, weapons systems or operations; foreign government information; intelligence activities, intelligence sources or methods, cryptology; foreign relations or foreign activities including confidential sources; scientific, technological or economic matters relating to national security; U.S. data on safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities; “vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security,” and data on weapons of mass destruction.

The order also calls for information to be declassified after 10 years unless it is very sensitive, and then it should be released after 25 years.

Information also cannot be classified if it will hide crimes, inefficiency or administrative errors or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization or agency.” No classification can be made if it restrains competition or prevents or delays the release of information not requiring national security protection, according to the draft order.

The order will give the director of national intelligence new authority to block the release of information by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel.

Plans call for the declassification center to be constructed over the next three years, with the first records to be moved into the facility by November 2012.

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About the Author

Bill Gertz INSIDE THE RING

Bill Gertz is geopolitics editor and a national security and investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. Gertz also writes a weekly column ...

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