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Here's one of those "fall through the crack" stories that I hadn't had a chance to write a diary on:

Saying the current system has helped create a "culture of secrecy that is antithetical to our democratic traditions," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on Thursday asked President Barack Obama to begin an overhaul of the way the government classifies documents.

Shaheen wants the White House to follow through on the December recommendations of a congressionally appointed board, which called for a new working group housed in the executive office to oversee the effort to fix the classification system. That proposal is supported by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Constitution Project and the Project on Government Oversight, who all want changes to come from the top to avoid bureaucratic in-fighting.

"Secrecy in our government should be limited, and used only when absolutely necessary to protect our national interest," Shaheen wrote in a letter to the president. "The inability of our current systems to manage data associated with modern security operations has not only resulted in excessive cost to the tax-payer, it has also created a culture of secrecy that is antithetical to our democratic traditions and undermines public confidence in our institutions." - Huffington Post, 5/30/13

Here's some background info on the Public Interest Declassification Board:

The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) is an advisory committee established by Congress in order to promote the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities. The President appointed Nancy Soderberg as chair of the Board and Martin C. Faga, William H. Leary, and Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker as members. The Minority Leader of the House appointed David Skaggs. The Speaker of the House appointed William O. Studeman and the Majority Leader of the Senate appointed Sanford Ungar.

The Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), serves as the PIDB Executive Secretary, and the ISOO staff provides staff support on a reimbursable basis.


Section 2 of the Public Interest Declassification Board Reauthorization Act of 2012, Section 602 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, and Section 1102 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 extended and modified the PIDB as established by the Public Interest Declassification Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-567, title VII, Dec. 27, 2000, 114 Stat. 2856).


Advises and provides recommendations to the President and other executive branch officials on the systematic, thorough, coordinated, and comprehensive identification, collection, review for declassification, and release of declassified records and materials of archival value, including records and materials of extraordinary public interest.

Promotes the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities in order to: support the oversight and legislative functions of Congress; support the policymaking role of the executive branch; respond to the public interest on national security matters; and promote reliable historical analysis and new avenues of historical study in national security matters.

Advises the President and other executive branch officials on policies deriving from Executive Orders regarding the classification and declassification of national security information.

Reviews and makes recommendations to the President with respect to any Congressional request, made by the committee of jurisdiction, to declassify certain records or to reconsider a rejection to declassify specific records.

Here's the letter Senator Shaheen has sent to the White House:

May 30, 2013

President Barack Obama                                                                                                                                

White House                                                                                                                                            

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue                                                                                                                      

Washington, DC

Mr. President:

Our nation’s security classification and declassification systems are inadequate and outdated.  As you continue to evaluate potential reform, I urge you to establish a steering committee at the White House to lead your efforts.

Designed prior to World War II, our classification systems and policies were never intended to manage the enormous amounts of data associated with the digital age.  According to the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), a single intelligence agency classifies a petabyte of information every 18 months.  One petabyte is equivalent to approximately 20 million filing cabinets filled with text or about 13.3 years of high definition video.  At the current processing rate, it would take two million employees a full year to manually review one month’s worth of classified records.  Moreover, the cost of storing these files has doubled over the past decade from $4.7 billion in 2001 to $11.36 billion in 2011.

I agree with the recommendations of the PIDB that establishing a White House working group on classification and declassification would be a meaningful first step toward addressing this issue.  One of the primary challenges of this type of reform effort will be ensuring active participation from stakeholders across the national security community.   A White House-led committee would provide the leadership and political support necessary to overcome bureaucratic obstacles as well as ensure our efforts are coordinated and efficient.  It would also reflect the sense of urgency this matter requires.  As you know, this proposal is also supported by over 30 non-profit groups dedicated to transparency and efficiency in government including the Constitution Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Project on Government Oversight.

Transparency is a foundational principle of our democracy.  The American public has a right to access official records in order to provide appropriate oversight of their elected officials.  Secrecy in our government should be limited, and used only when absolutely necessary to protect our national interest.  The inability of our current systems to manage data associated with modern security operations has not only resulted in excessive cost to the tax-payer, it has also created a culture of secrecy that is antithetical to our democratic traditions and undermines public confidence in our institutions.

I hope you will consider establishing a White House steering committee on security classification reform and continue to address the problem of over-classification in our government.


Jeanne Shaheen                                                                              

United States Senator

30 public interest organizations urged President Obama in a letter to focus efforts to reduce national security secrecy back in April:
The PIDB released a report back in January detailing concerns with the current classification system and calling for reforms to the current system. The report also described the impact of over-classification in increasing the likelihood of sensitive information being leaked, as a result of the sheer volume of materials requiring classification:

The White House asked the board to conduct its study of classification procedures in the first place. In November, the president signed into law a bill strengthening whistleblower protections for most government employees. At the same time, however, the administration took a hard line against those who blow the whistle outside of what it considered the proper channels.

As the lawyer for Pfc. Bradley Manning noted on Monday, while the president was signing that new whistleblower bill into law, military prosecutors were facing off in court against his client, who is accused of sending sensitive State Department cables to WikiLeaks. The Obama administration, moreover, has prosecuted more people for leaking classified information under the Espionage Act than all its predecessors combined.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight, argued that the smarter approach toward classification and declassification recommended by the board must be combined with a more enlightened attitude toward whistleblowers who go to the press.

"There are lots of ways to blow the whistle, and this president has done a lot to strengthen protections, particularly for those who use internal channels," she said.

But, she added, "I think there's a great concern that people are going to be punished for revealing information that never should have been marked classified in the first place." - Huffington Post, 12/7/12

You can read the report here:

And here are the list of recommendations:

If you'd like to get more information, please contact Senator Shaheen's office for more details:

(202) 224-2841

Originally posted to pdc on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 09:33 PM PDT.

Also republished by Take New Hampshire Forward!.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (4+ / 0-)

    Funny Stuff at

    by poopdogcomedy on Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 09:33:33 PM PDT

  •  And risk MORE scandals? (0+ / 0-)

    You must be a Republican to support something that might make this administration look bad.


    Add the median effective tax rate, healthcare costs (20%?), education costs, and other things guaranteed in Denmark & Sweden, we pay MORE for LESS. Somebody's gotta pay the billionaires. They don't grow on trees. ☮ ♥ ☺

    by Words In Action on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 05:53:38 AM PDT

  •  Who decides about classification? (0+ / 0-)

    Better yet, who defines "never should have been classified", Congress, the Executive, or is there a role for the Judicial Branch (who deliberates in secret, is that now open as well?)?

    How far does it go? Will Senator Shaheen consent to eliminating all secrecy from the Congress? If not, why?

    Who is going to be responsible if declassifying information in an instance turns out not to catch governmental wrongdoing, but proves detrimental to citizen's lives, liberty, property, or happiness? The government isn't the only danger to people in this world after all.

    Do citizens, or their estates have the ability to seek relief, or will the declassifier of secrets enjoy absolute immunity?

    Some say no classification at all. I'm not sure how that works in a stable society, but again, who decides?

    What I don't believe in is having it imposed by Bradley Manning or any other person looking to save me without my consent.

    The politicians may be bought, and the system corrupt, but it is our duty to fix these things.

    by sebastianguy99 on Sun Jun 02, 2013 at 10:05:52 AM PDT

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