- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008


The Bush administration is readying for the huge task of adopting a single new governmentwide set of standards for information that is not secret, but which officials still want to control.

According to a briefing prepared for congressional staff, the system will replace dozens of categories of restricted data with just three. Four existing categories will be grandfathered into the system.

These types of restricted information, collectively called “sensitive but unclassified” or “controlled, unclassified information,” are currently managed under “an ungoverned body of policies that confuses both producers and users,” according to the briefing.

Over many years, and especially since the September 11 terrorist attacks, an overlapping, inconsistent and sometimes contradictory forest of categories and markings has arisen, agency by agency, as officials sought to restrict access to various types of information.

The restrictions cover all kinds of documents from the routine daily schedules of senior officials to grand jury transcripts or witness protection information.

The result, government figures show, is more than 100 categories of information, each with its unique rationale and handling and distribution restrictions.

In some cases the same term, “security sensitive” for instance, can mean different things in different agencies.

Officials say this underbrush of regulations is inhibiting the sharing of terrorism information within the federal government and between it and state and local agencies — a major recommendation of the September 11 commission later mandated by Congress. Moreover, says the briefing document, the confusion means that restricted information is sometimes shared more widely than it should be.

If and when the president signs the order, the three new categories will rate information according to “safeguards” how it should be stored handled and transmitted and “dissemination” who is allowed to see it.

The lowest-ranked category, which congressional staff said would be roughly equivalent to the current “for official use only” markings, would be called “standard safeguards, standard dissemination.” After that comes “standard safeguards, specific dissemination,” which is handled in the same way but which fewer people are entitled to see.

The most-protected category will be “enhanced safeguards, specific dissemination,” but the executive agent will be empowered to create more categories within the new framework if proves necessary.

The four categories that will be grandfathered in are Safeguards Information, which is material the Nuclear Regulatory Commission thinks poses a threat to public health and safety; Security Sensitive Information, the category created by the Transportation Security Administration; and Protected Critical Infrastructure Information and Chemical-Terrorism Vulnerability Information, which are types of data about security vulnerabilities collected from the private sector by the Department of Homeland Security.

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