Transforming the Security Classification System – or, Why don’t I know what really happened at Roswell?

I will save you the time, the report from the Public Interest Declassification Board will not tell you if we have made alien contact, but, it does make recommendations on the use of Classification, how and why Declassification is important and that Technology will facilitate both.

It is important to remember that we live in an age of instant information and communications. Unable to remember who the first Archivist of the United States was? Just Google it! Why should I not be able to do the same for any Governmental document? The answer is simple. You may not have a need to know, the information is still classified, or it is stuck in the approximately 400 Million back log to be reviewed for declassification. This report outlines ways to address your right to know, the fact that it is still classified (possibly unnecessarily over classified) and how to remove that 400 Million back log.

This report is not the panacea for all that is possibly wrong with Intelligent and Military Classification doctrine. The Board heard from many witnesses spanning all stakeholders in Classification and Declassification of Intelligence and Military documents to bring together their recommendations. In my time at TITUS I have had the privilege to work and collaborate with some of the brightest minds in classification in the employ of the US Government and other Governments throughout the world, and they too would agree the system is not perfect. It is a Classification system based on keeping their Nations secrets safe and in turn their countries citizens. They are always actively looking for ways to improve the system and will look at suggestions to make things more efficient. They recognize that in a Digital Age the expectations on disclosures are different then when Satellites dropped film canisters to be analyzed and a file folder was Manila not an icon on your desktop. They want as much as anyone to streamline the process.

In reviewing the report, there are three main areas that are addressed:

The Classification System
The current system was established some 70 years ago, and in the time since has been updated in an ad hoc way. In the early “…1980s, an increasingly complex national security posture resulted in a sharp increase in compartmented and special access programs.” The result of this “…complexity makes integration and modernization more difficult and worsens over-classification”. The report then outlines six recommendations to improve and modernize the current Classification System. The recommendations focus around the move to a two tier Classification System and determination of Classification based on risk assessment on the “…level of harm anticipated in the event of unauthorized release.” As well, it is recommended that certain information that is “…information with short-lived sensitivity should be identified and segmented for automatic declassification without further review” and that a Safe Harbor clause should be introduced “…for classifiers who adhere to rigorous risk management practices and determine in good faith to classify information at a lower level or not at all”. The board also recommends that “The President should appoint a White House-led Security Classification Reform Steering Committee to oversee implementation of the Board’s recommendations to modernize the current system of classification and declassification.”

The Declassification System
Declassification is “used to remove restrictions on and grant public access to classified information that no longer requires safeguarding”. “Because agencies’ declassification guidelines and criteria are often outdated or difficult to understand, they can produce inconsistent declassification decisions and missed referrals to other agencies”. This will exacerbate “…the difficult task of reviewing the enormous volume of these so-called “born-digital” records as they become subject to automatic declassification after 25 years.” There is a pressing need to revamp the Declassification system as well in light of the historical importance of most classified information. Accordingly, “…“future historians may find that the paper records of early American history provide a more reliable historical account than the inchoate mass of digital communications of the current era”

One of the interesting ideas pushed is the historical importance of information in the classified files. We know that some classified information from as far back as May 1930 involved plans to Invade Canada could have been declassified as early as 1955. Imagine the ramifications that could have had on American-Canadian relations at the time? If this information was disclosed at that time, would then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker have as a constant Throne Speech theme of Canadian interests will be placed first with the United States? Would he have established NORAD, canceled the Avro Arrow, built the St. Lawrence Seaway and bought US manufactured Fighters? When it finally was declassified in 1995, it still caused controversy, but seen in modern eyes, it appeared antiquated and whimsical. In the 1950’s it could have impeded the increasing cooperation between Canada and the United States.

Using Technology to Aid Classification and Declassification
The previous two sections outline the issues with Classification and Declassification and what can be done to fix what is perceived as broken or ineffective. The Recommendations in this section points to the solution to the problem. That is the proper use and enablement of classification and secure collaboration technology to facilitate the protection of information and the reasonable disclosure of information after its efficacy is done. For example, one of the key recommendation points is to:
“Automate and streamline declassification and classification processes, and ensure integration with electronic records management systems”

The goals of TITUS software has been in these regards. TITUS Message Classification, TITUS Classification for Microsoft Office and TITUS Classification for Desktop provide automation in classification. TITUS allows for the creation of rich metadata that can provide the provenance and context to streamline the declassification. More importantly TITUS classification is done by guiding the classifier through the potential complexity of the metadata schema for classification. TITUS provides feature and functionality to facilitate recommended classification of an information object. The TITUS products provide a visual indication for human consumers of the information object, and in addition significant metadata is also added to the information object to facilitate electronic records management systems. TITUS provides solutions for SharePoint that will leverage the metadata of the information object with the need to know of the individual accessing the information. This automated policy based approach streamlines the records management requirement in this report.

Final Thoughts
The report provides strong guidance to both the US Government and to TITUS on what the challenges are today. For TITUS this report provides invaluable market needs and at the same time confirms for TITUS that the current product strategy being executed will meet the Classification needs of the US Military and Intelligence Community today and into the near future.

While the report didn’t disclose if alien contact had been made, it may provide the framework that at some time hopefully in the near future that information may be declassified!

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