Skip to content

DNI Haines Reiterates that Overclassification is a National Security Threat During Senate Testimony, What NSArchive Would Have Asked Her, and Much More: FRINFORMSUM 5/12/2022

May 12, 2022
Sen. Warren addresses overclassification.

Director of National Intelligence Reiterates Overclassification a National Security Concern at Worldwide Threats Hearing 

The Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, and the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Scott Berrier, testified before the Senate Armed Service Committee this week. The hearing, which can be viewed here, featured a discussion about overclassification and pseudo-classification between Haines and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren, whose line of questioning begins around the 1’23” mark of the video, expressed concern that the current classification system has “spiraled out of control”. Warren asked DNI Haines if she thought overclassification was a national security problem, to which Haines, who authored a letter to Senators Ron Wyden and Jerry Moran earlier this year on the dangers of overclassification, readily agreed. 

The most interesting moment came when Senator Warren cited the United States’ decision to declassify information to aid Ukraine in its war against the Russian invasion, noting that this was evidence of a “well-functioning declassification system” that has the power to do good. Warren asked if there could be lessons learned from this instance about how to expedite declassification of information that might technically meet the standards for declassification when there is a compelling reason to do so. Haines agreed, noting that in this instance it showed how declassification “can support foreign policy”, and that she would be happy to discuss the topic more in a closed session. The answer is good to have on the record, and a follow-up letter from Warren to Haines could include a clarifying question to that point, namely: Would Haines be willing to spearhead building a more formal structure inside the IC outlining where and when consideration should be given to declassifying information because of the potential public interest and value in its release?

Senator Warren also brought attention to the exorbitant costs of the classification system (18 billion $ in FY 2017, the most recent figure available) and the limited resources paid to declassification (102 million $ for that same time period). These figures are outdated because the Information Security Oversight Office’s most recent reports do not attempt to calculate the costs of the security classification system, likely because of the challenges ISOO faced  in collecting and analyzing agency statistical data in the years since. Put another way, we currently have no idea how much the national security classification system costs us. 

Other open questions for DNI Haines on overclassification and pseudo-classification from NSArchive include: 

1) Do you support the Public Interest Declassification Board’s 2015 recommendation to end “pass/fail” review for historical records?

2) Would you support a major declassification program for historical IC records? Something along the lines of the CIA’s CREST system which provided for systematic declassification and release of historical intelligence analysis, but also overhead reconnaissance products?

3) How is ODNI pursuing strategic technology to support automated classification and declassification?

4) Will the ODNI commit to following the PIDB’s 2020 recommendation to develop a plan to assist the Archivist of the United States in “modernizing the systems in use across agencies for the management of classified records, including electronic records”?

5) How could the ODNI further support the work of the National Declassification Center to ensure that historical IC records are released to the public?

6) Would you support the NDC making declassification decisions for historic records over 40-years-old?

7) What percentage of IC documents do you believe are overclassified?

8) How much does security classification cost the ODNI and the IC?

9) How many bytes of classified material does the ODNI assess exist across the IC?

10) Do you have data on how often the ODNI and other IC agencies issue Glomar responses?

11) If so, will the IC community commit to reporting on the number of Glomar denials issued each FY? If not, why not?

Sign Up

Want to stay on top of the latest FOIA news? Click here to sign up for our FRINFORMSUM (Freedom of Information Summary) email newsletter.

The Next Archivist

The Biden administration’s nominee for the next Archivist of the United States will have a profound impact on the safe-keeping of our national history, the ability to hold government agencies and employees accountable, and the performance of the National Archives and Records Administration itself. There’s no indication yet who the administration may choose, but the National Security Archive was proud to co-author a letter to President Biden outlining the qualifications the next archivist must have. The letter, which was signed by 22 organizations and prominent voices in the archival and open government communities, was sent to the president on May 6, 2022. 

The National Security Archive outlined many of the letter’s concerns in our 2022 Audit of NARA’s budget, which can be read on our website. Our analysis underscored that NARA is stretched too thin in normal times, and its insufficient budget and statutory authority were no match for the Trump administration’s disdain for records management. 

Now is a critical time for the agency to course-correct.

The May 6 coalition letter underscores the urgency that the next Archivist support: public access to records through traditional archival research; the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); declassification; and rigorous oversight of agencies records management processes and records retention schedules. 

President Biden has an opportunity to pick a successor who builds on previous AOTUS David Ferriero’s successes (outlined in a thank you letter to Ferriero that is available here), like NARA’s strong support of the Office of Government Information Services and maintaining a good relationship with the public to help improve NARA’s services. Above all, President Biden must also choose someone who will advocate for a budget that reflects the critical services NARA provides, and will take full advantage of all of the agency’s statutory authority. Without these qualities, NARA will continue to be underwater, and the public’s access to its records and a full accounting of its history will remain in serious doubt.

The Secret War for Germany: CIA’s Covert Role in Cold War Berlin Explored through Recently Declassified Documents 

The Central Intelligence Agency aggressively pursued clandestine efforts to undermine East German morale at the height of the Cold War, recently declassified CIA records confirm. Exploring one of the core chapters of post-war European history, the materials recently posted by the National Security Archive detail key facets of the intelligence agency’s still meagerly documented activities in East Germany.

Those activities included supporting and advising certain anti-communist activist groups, particularly in Berlin – a fact long denied in public – which were effective enough to prompt the Soviets to make them a subject of diplomacy with Washington, in addition to implementing their own propaganda and security measures.

This e-book consists of several documents culled from the recently published Digital National Security Archive collection CIA Covert Operations IV: The Eisenhower Years, 1953-1961 (ProQuest, 2021), available by subscription through many libraries. They provide a concise look into some of the intelligence agency’s previously classified ties to covert organizations in Cold War Germany. Read the whole story on our website. 

In Brief

Seven-Year FOIA Battle Ends with IRS Handing Over Records: The Institute for Justice recently won access to the IRS forfeiture database, the Asset Forfeiture Tracking and Retrieval System (AFTRAK). The IRS initially tried to charge $750,000 in FOIA fees to fulfill the request, which helped prompt IJ to file suit. Read the whole story on the Institute for Justice website.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: