New Obama Order Standardizes and Limits Pseudo-Secrets

Follows Recommendations from Open Government Advocates and the 2006 Archive FOI Audit – Published on the National Security Archive, by Tom Blanton, Nov. 4, 2010.

Instead of New Tier of Secrecy in Previous Bush Order, Obama Policy Restricts Controlled Unclassified Information – Markings Must Be Based on Statute, Regulation or Government-wide Policy, With Public Input on Implementation. For more information, Tom Blanton 202/994-7000 or by e-mail.

… President Obama’s new Executive Order on “Controlled Unclassified Information” issued today builds on recommendations from open government groups and the findings of the National Security Archive’s 2006 audit of “Pseudo-Secrets” that uncovered 28 different and uncoordinated policies on marking and restricting official unclassified information. 

“Over the years, government officials came up with more than 100 creative acronyms like LOU or UCNI or SHSI or SBU to stamp as secret those records that did not qualify for the normal national security classification system,” remarked Tom Blanton, director of the Archive.  “The new Order will bring some much-needed standards and restrictions to this out-of-control bureaucratic process – and help fulfill President Obama’s pledges for a more open government.”

Patrice McDermott, director of the OpenTheGovernment.org coalition, commented that “The [previous] Bush policy and earlier drafts could have created a fourth level of classification. Instead, this Order is a victory for openness, for both our community and the Administration. We applaud the Administration for the time, effort, and thoughtful consideration of input from inside and outside government it took to make this the outcome.”

The Archive carried out in 2006 the first government-wide audit of sensitive-but-unclassified information policies, sparking Congressional hearings on the subject.  At the time, Archive director Blanton testified to the U.S. House of Representative Committee on Government Reform that “We believe the diversity of policies, the ambiguous and incomplete guidelines, the lack of monitoring, and the decentralized administration of information controls on sensitive unclassified information – all of which is evident in our Audit results – means that neither the Congress nor the public can really tell whether these sensitive unclassified information policies are actually working to safeguard our security, or are being abused for administrative convenience or coverup”… (full text).

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