- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The official in charge of the Pentagon’s use of secrecy said yesterday that there was too much subjectivity in the way decisions about classification are made.

Robert Rogalski, director of security for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, told a symposium on classification at the National Archives that the public is uneasy about growing government secrecy.

“It makes our job easier if the American public doesn’t believe we’re trying to hide behind secrets. … We should be as transparent as possible,” he said.

Lawrence Halloran, a senior staffer from the House Government Reform national security, emerging threats and international relations subcommittee, added that overclassification damaged the integrity of the system and encouraged leaks and other violations of classified protocols.

“People notice all kinds of stuff sloshing around [in the classification system], and that makes them think it’s OK” to leak, he said.

Mr. Rogalski said his office has reviewed bad classification decisions that resulted not from “ill motives.”

A lot of those decisions were made — sometimes literally — “in the heat of the battle,” he said, adding that under such circumstances officials “may sometimes take a too-conservative approach to classification.”

As a result, he said, the Pentagon was starting an education program to “change the security culture” in the department and introduce more rigorous decision making.

“It needs to make sense to the American public,” Mr. Rogalski said of a decision to classify a document. “There needs to be accountability for those decisions.”

He said the Pentagon had cut the number of officials with the power to classify documents by 14 percent, to 912, and had introduced minimum training requirements for those who remained.

He added that the new requirements were part of a “security professionalization program,” including the development of certification and qualification processes.

But Mr. Halloran said such changes would be akin to the Defense Department “tuning up your Edsel.”

At the end of the process, he said, “Your car is tuned, but it’s still a really old car that may not get you where you want to go.”

The default assumptions of the system needed to be reset, he said.

Mr. Rogalski said that as part of the program, those officials would be challenged “to ensure that they can really stand up and justify” why a given document should be classified.

The law upon which government classification authority was founded — presidential Executive Order No. 12958 — contained language that needed to be interpreted, he added.

The order says that information can be classified lawfully only if its “unauthorized disclosure … reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security.”

“What’s damage?” Mr. Rogalski asked.

Last year, a report prepared for the Department of Defense by the JASON Group, a secretive scientific advisory panel, found that the classification system was so unwieldy that frustrated military personnel often bypass it altogether.

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