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Inspector General Claims to Have Found No ‘Instances’ Where CIA Over-Classified Secrets

The inspector general for the CIA conducted a review of whether the agency was keeping information secret that should be public and found “no instances of over-classification.”

The Reducing Over-Classification Act, signed into law on October 7, 2010, requires the inspector general for each United States department or agency with an officer who makes classification decisions to evaluate whether information is being appropriately classified. The inspector general is also to assess policies, procedures, rules, regulations, etc, to reduce “persistent misclassification of material.” This is to be done in “consultation” with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO).

Through the Freedom of Information Act, The Huffington Post obtained a copy [PDF] of the CIA inspector general’s report on classification of information at the agency, which is dated September 26, 2013.

“We found no instances of over-classification in the sample of [REDACTED] finished intelligence reports that we reviewed,” the report indicates, with no awareness of the bitter irony of the statement. (Note: Either the CIA cannot risk America’s adversaries learning how many “finished intelligence reports” were reviewed because they might use this detail for some terrorist algorithm for their next plot or else this should probably be considered information that the agency has over-classified.)

The report goes on to note that a CIA “self-inspection report” has a section of the report for “addressing security violations” and “states that the number of violations by CIA employees continues to be relatively low.” The report “does not cite the number of security violations that occurred” in 2012. It does not say whether the number of violations increased or decreased “over previous years.”

Also, the CIA “chose not to evaluate declassification actions” in this report but provided “no explanation for that decision.” In other words, it did not bother to inspect whether it is appropriately declassifying information that should not be kept secret.

All the recommendations in the inspector general report are censored. They all address how the CIA can better mark information that the agency classifies and for some unclear reason that is sensitive information that if released would help the terrorists win.

Nobody, except for current and former officials in President Barack Obama’s administration, would dare claim that the CIA is not improperly classifying or over-classifying secrets.

When Jeffery Scudder was a CIA employee working in the office that reviews the agency’s historical files, the Washington Post reported he “discovered a stack of articles, hundreds of histories of long-dormant conflicts and operations that he concluded were still being stored in secret years after they should have been shared with the public.”

Scudder submitted a FOIA request. CIA supervisors confronted him, accused him of “mishandling classified information while assembling his FOIA request,” had the FBI raid his house and seize his family’s computers, fired him, revoked his security clearance and made him agree to retire or, if he refused, he would lose most of his pension.

He pressed on with his FOIA and even filed a lawsuit for the information. The CIA posted 249 records Scudder had sought on their website in September. It still is withholding 170 other records sought by Scudder.

The CIA waged an assault on the process of Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR), which allows any citizen to request a review of any record and then agencies have to “declassify information that no longer meets the standards for classification.”

As the National Security Archive highlighted on February 10, 2012, “Overnight, without public comment or notice, the Agency decreed that declassification reviews would now cost requesters up to $72 per hour, even if no information is found or released. To even submit a request—again, even if no documents are released—the public must now agree to pay a minimum of $15.”

MDR is a way to get around the CIA’s control of information and have the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) decide records should be in the public domain. [National Security Archive has effectively used MDR to “pry” documents from the CIA.] But, to discourage citizens from going through this process instead of FOIA, the CIA decided to make it expensive for citizens seeking documents.

To show how effective ISCAP can be, in 2013 [PDF], the panel “affirmed prior agency classification decisions in 20 documents (13.25%), declassified 55 documents (36.42%) in their entirety and declassified 76 documents (50.33%) in part. Altogether, ISCAP overruled the CIA in 86% of the reviews they conducted.

The Government Accountability Office indicated in a recent data transparency report [PDF] that the CIA is one of four agencies that does not release unclassified information on contracts to USAspending.gov. The Office of Management and Budget does not exempt the CIA from releasing this information.

In an automatic declassification process in 2013, the CIA reviewed over 8 million pages of records and only released 1.65 million pages.

The CIA refused to confirm or deny whether it had any information on drones used for “targeted killings” but lost in court when the ACLU convinced a federal appeals court that the fact that the agency had an “intelligence interest” in the US drone program was “already in the public domain.”

The agency will not release its final volume of Bay of Pigs history and has convinced the courts that no matter how long ago it happened it should remain secret. It is also still fighting the release of documents related to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

With John Brennan as the agency’s director, it is struggling to keep as much information on the agency’s use of torture on detainees in the global war on terrorism from becoming public. It continues to stall and obstruct the release of information in the Senate Select Commiteee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s torture program.

The public is not allowed to know what type of information the agency’s inspector general reviewed—or how many documents were examined. Did the reports have to do with terrorism? World markets? Public opinion toward drones? Spying on foreign governments’ inquiries into US spying against them? We’ll never know.

No one should take seriously the idea that this shows there is no problem with over-classification at the CIA or that this is legitimate oversight. This report is the product of a charade intended to give the appearance of progress toward openness. The CIA is still as outrageously secretive and unaccountable to the public as ever.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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