Dear Mr. Chairman:
On behalf of the Archivist of the United States and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, I am pleased to enclose a brief report that provides "an update of agency compliance with the declassification requirements of Section 3.4 of E. O.12958, 'Classified National Security Information,'" and a brief report on "agency compliance with sections 1.2, 1.3, 1.6, 1.8, and 1.9 of Executive Order 12958." These reports are directed by House Report 105-240, which accompanied the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations Act for 1998.
The enclosed data and information disclose unprecedented effort and achievement on the part of executive branch agencies to meet the declassification requirements of E.O. 12958 during Fiscal Years 1996 and 1997. At the same time, we remain mindful that an even greater effort will be necessary as agencies seek to review the remaining records that will otherwise be subject to automatic declassification under the terms of the Order. We are also aware that the level of achievement among the agencies remains uneven, with several agencies slow to get started in their declassification efforts. The report on classification activity reveals general compliance throughout the executive branch with the cited provisions of E.O. 12958.
The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will have more information available and analyzed when it issues its Report to the President for Fiscal Year 1997. Copies of the Report to the President will be provided to the Subcommittee and other interested Committees of Congress as soon as it has been cleared by the White House. We hope to have that Report to the President by the end of May. In the meantime, l am available at your request to meet with the membership or staff of the Subcommittee to provide as much information and data as we have available. Also, we will provide the Subcommittee with a report on security classification costs by May 1, 1998, as directed in House Report 105-240.
Inasmuch as the data contained in the enclosure are preliminary, and have not as yet been included in any public report or disclosure, we respectfully request that the Subcommittee limit access to these reports to its needs or the needs of the Committee on Appropriations until ISOO issues its Report to the President for Fiscal Year 1997.
cc: The Honorable John W. Carlin
Archivist of the United States
The Honorable Frank Raines
Director, Office of Management and Budget
Preliminary data gathered by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) as of the date of this report reveal that in Fiscal Year 1997, the agencies of the executive branch continued to declassify historically valuable documents in numbers unprecedented before the issuance of Executive Order 12958, "Classified National Security Information." E.O.12958 went into effect early in Fiscal Year 1996. In FY 1997, executive branch agencies declassified approximately 205 million pages of historically valuable records. This represents more than a four percent increase from the 196 million pages that the agencies declassified in Fiscal Year 1996.
In other words, during the first two years that E.O.12958 has been in effect, executive branch agencies have declassified more than 400 million pages of historically valuable documents. Added to the approximately 69 million pages declassified in FY 19951, in just the past three years, the executive branch has declassified more than 70% of the pages of historically valuable documents declassified since 1980.
Of the 401 million pages declassified in FY 1996 and FY 1997, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) accounts for fully 57% (227 million) of the total from the holdings within the National Archives of the United States. Of course, these records originated in agencies other than NARA, predominantly from the components of the Department of Defense (DOD) and from the Department of State (State). Other agencies that have declassified large numbers of historically valuable records over the past two years include DOD, 126 million pages; State, 25 million; United States Information Agency, 8.5 million; the Department of Energy, 3.8 million; the Department of Commerce, 2.6 million; the Agency for International Development, 1.6 million; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1.0 million; the Department of the Treasury, 0.6 million; and the National Security Council, 0.16 million.
The data provided to date continue to indicate uneven accomplishment among the agencies of the requirement to declassify significant portions of the subject records each year. Some of the larger classifying agencies are only now beginning to declassify records in significant numbers. However, the National Archives and Records Administration has done an extraordinary job in declassifying various agencies' records within the National Archives of the United States. As a result, from the data currently available, lSOO believes that the 401 million pages declassified by the executive branch in FY 1996 and 1997 combined exceed 30% of the total universe of classified pages subject to automatic declassification by April 2000.
In June 1997, the National Security Adviser requested that ISOO review the agencies' proposed exempt file series, and advise him of ISOO's recommendations regarding their acceptance by the President. Assisted by staff members from the National Archives and Records Administration and the National Security Council, the ISOO team has nearly completed its review and is preparing to send its recommendations to the National Security Adviser as this report is being prepared.
As a result of the ISOO review, six agencies withdrew entirely their requests for file series exemptions. The remaining 10 agencies that requested such exemptions have significantly narrowed the scope of their requests. Perhaps most important, for each one of the remaining file series proposed for exemption, the agencies have established fixed dates to review them for declassification.
The ISCAP, made up of senior level representatives appointed by the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Attorney General, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Archivist of the United States and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, began meeting in May 1996. The President appointed Roslyn A. Mazer, Associate Deputy Attorney General, to serve as the ISCAP's chair. The Director of ISOO serves as its Executive Secretary, and ISOO provides its staff support.
As of the date of this report, the ISCAP has decided appeals seeking the declassification of 61 documents that remained fully or partially classified upon the completion of agency processing. Of these, the ISCAP voted to declassify 49 (80%) of them in full, to declassify significant portions of eight others (13%), and to affirm the agency's action fully for only four documents (7%).
To keep interested persons aware of its activities and decisions, the ISCAP membership voted to issue periodic communiques. It issued its first communique in June 1997, and is preparing to issue its second shortly. In addition, ISOO provides copies of the ISCAP's decision database upon request. Because the ISCAP's product is presidential records rather than Federal records, the White House Counsel's Office concurred in the ISCAP's decision to make these items publicly available.
Sections 1.2, 1.3 and 1.6 address classified information at its creation. Section 1.2 sets out the standards that must be met before information may be classified in the first instance, and directs that doubtful situations be resolved in favor of no classification. Section 1.3 establishes the standards for the three permissible levels of security classification, Top Secret, Secret and Confidential. Section 1.6 establishes the time frames that limit the duration of classification. Classifiers must first seek a specific date or event for declassification. When such specific dates or events elude the classifier, he or she is now required to set a 10-year time frame. Only if an applicable exemption category pertains may the classifier extend the duration of classification beyond 10 years, but not longer than 25 years.
Sections 1.8 and 1.9 serve as control mechanisms to help ensure that classifiers act prudently. Section 1.8 expresses when classification is forbidden, e.g., to conceal violations of law or to prevent embarrassment to an individual. Section 1.9 mandates a retribution-free process through which holders of information may challenge and appeal questionable classification actions.
Taken together, these five sections of E.O. 12958 provide a strong foundation for sound classification decision making. Current evidence available to ISOO suggests that they are working as intended.
Historically and practically because of its very small size, ISOO operates as a policy oversight entity. That is, ISOO's oversight concentrates on program reviews designed to reveal whether the subject agency is implementing the security classification system as intended by the President. To this end, ISOO works closely with each agency's officials responsible for implementing its security classification system. These officials exercise internal agency oversight as part of their responsibility.
Over the years, ISOO has developed means to leverage the effectiveness of its oversight despite its small size. With respect to such classification activities that House Report 105-240 specifically addresses, ISOO has relied primarily on classified document reviews. In these reviews, ISOO analysts examine a random sampling of an agency's recently classified product. ISOO knows that a review of even a small portion of an agency's product reveals a great deal about the overall effectiveness of an agency's internal monitorship and security education program, and also pinpoints specific problem areas in classification and marking.
Since the issuance of E.O. 12958, ISOO has not conducted extensive document reviews of agencies' classified product. A primary factor has been the Order's radical changes in the declassification program, which have dominated not only ISOO's time and resources, but also those of the agencies. Also, ISOO has focused more of its oversight to agency implementation of the National Industrial Security Program (NISP), which was designed to reduce significantly the costs of the security classification system within industry. The NISP is at a critical stage of its development, and ISOO believes its active involvement at this time is extremely important to the program's ultimate success or failure.
Until ISOO is able to resume fully its document review program, it must rely on other aspects of its oversight program to monitor classification activity within the agencies. These include its collection and analysis of statistical data; its receipt and review of complaints and suggestions about the security classification program; and its role as the Executive Secretary and staff for the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP).
The FY 1996 data also showed a significant change in the assignment of declassification dates, commonly called the duration of classification. Classifiers chose 10 years or less as the declassification date for over 50 percent of their decisions. This statistic is a very positive indicator of progress in implementing the Section 1.6 of E.O. 12958 Before E.O.12958 classifiers limited the duration of classification for less than 5% of their classification decisions.
ISOO is now receiving and analyzing statistical data on agencies' security classification programs for FY 1997. Preliminary review of the data received so far appears to support the benchmarks established in FY 1996, the first year of E.O. 12958's implementation. A full analysis and reporting of these data will appear in ISOO's Report to the President for FY 1997, which ISOO is planning to issue in May 1998. ISOO will provide copies of this Report to the interested Committees of the Congress, including the Appropriations Committees, immediately upon its availability.
For example, lSOO recently responded to a complaint concerning an agency's alleged use of the outdated duration of classification marking "OADR" (Originating Agency's Determination Required) on newly generated classified material. To resolve this complaint, lSOO contacted the responsible officials of this agency. It appears that this problem arose from the failure of the agency to revise its internal classification regulation to comply with E.O. 12958 upon its effective date. The problem of unpublished revised internal agency regulations is widespread because of the added demands of the declassification program.
However, most agencies have issued interim instructions that have prevented similar violations of E.O.12958. ISOO directed the "offending" agency to take whatever steps were necessary to prevent its classifiers from using outdated duration of classification instructions, and it is acting responsibly to resolve this problem quickly. ISOO may follow up this complaint with a program review.
Perhaps surprisingly, complaints alleging such systemic violation of E.O. 12958's classification provisions have been relatively few. However, lSOO is anxious to resume its document review program when time and resources permit.