For the next three fiscal years (FY 2020-2022), the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires Intelligence Community (IC) Inspectors General (IGs) to submit reports to both House and Senate intelligence committees on adherence to classification and declassification policies at their agencies. The reports must be submitted by the IGs of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), as well as the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (IC IG) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).
The IG reports must assess:
1) the accuracy of classification and handling markers applied to a representative example of finished intelligence products that include Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI);
2) agency compliance with declassification ;
3) the effectiveness of processes that agencies currently use to prioritize “topics of public or historical importance” for declassification.
Detailed assessments of prioritization and compliance in declassification, and the accuracy of classification marking and handling at these IC agencies offers the potential to support ISOO oversight activities. It also has the potential to improve IC agency information security programs, including safeguarding, timeliness of responses to Mandatory Declassification Review requests, and new efforts to improve declassification reviews of records of historical interest.
The Congress included this provision and others like it in the FY 2020 NDAA because of their concern about excessive classification and insufficient declassification, including recognition that these challenges will get worse as the increase in the volume of classified electronic data accelerates. These provisions and their resulting reports support commentary by ISOO Director Mark Bradley in recent ISOO Annual Reports to the President. They attest to the need to modernize policies and practices that make classification more precise and prioritize declassification reviews on records of historical significance and public interest. They attest to the need to modernize classification and declassification policies and practices
The need for the IGs of the CIA, NSA, DIA, NRO, NGA, and ODNI to assess these classification and declassification issues has been clear at least since November 2018, when the IC IG released its Assessment of IC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Programs. Focusing just on FOIA programs at these agencies, the IC IG concluded that in 2018:
- the ODNI should lead the integration of FOIA programs across the IC into a collective IC FOIA enterprise;
- the approach to FOIA at IC agencies was inefficient; and not all FOIA offices within the IC had access to secure electronic systems;
- technology solutions were absent or uneven across IC agencies and were not used for FOIA review;
- the lack of an enterprise approach and the lack of technology permits the possibility of inconsistent release decisions within or across the IC;
- the ODNI could improve coordination and planning of IC-wide transparency-initiated declassification review with implications for FOIA programs across the IC;
- the ODNI should use its existing authorities to engage with Federal governance organizations (e.g. the Office of Government Information Services) in explaining FOIA challenges unique to the IC and to Congress, including potential changes to the FOIA.
Since 2018, FOIA programs across the IC and other Federal agencies have made little progress toward addressing any of the issues assessed by the IC IG. For the next three fiscal years. reports on classification and declassification by the same IC agencies and by the IC IGs, will contribute valuable information that may aid immediate program improvements and help longer-term modernization.