Why are so many US government documents classified?

Ronan Farrow, who was an official in the first Obama administration, says leakers aren't the US government's greatest security problem. "The real concern: why are so many US government documents classified? By keeping too many secrets, America has created fertile ground for government distrust and more leaks." [Comment is free | guardian.co.uk, via @miafarrow]


  1. Old comments again?

    It’s worth noting that overclassification is a problem in *any* classification system. One large corporation completely revamped its multilevel document classification system after it was shown that (a) people were overclassifying things because “if in doubt, it can’t hurt”, and (b) it *was* hurting in court..

    (The ultimate example of the latter: There used to be preprinted “company confidential” pads, to be used for taking notes in closed meetings so you didn’t have to remember to scrawl that on every page of sensitive data. A smart lawyer held one up as evidence and asked how a blank notepad could be confidential, and whether confidential actually meant anything if you could mindlessly slap it on anything from trade secrets to a lunch order.)

  2. When I was in the military I had a clearance and seem to remember that if any single part of the methods used to gather and compile the material in question is classified, that material gets classified at or near the same level.  So if the SR71 flew over you house and took pictures on Tuesday at 8:41 AM, that picture of you doing your gardening is classified Top Secret simply because it was taken by the SR71, and there’s metadata in that photo that identifies that it was over your house at that date and time.  I remember seeing Top Secret message traffic during the Tianneman Square  riots that had nothing of use in them that we weren’t learning from live coverage by CNN.  The message traffic was classified at that level because of the source reporting in from the scene.  

  3. Well, the good thing is that it seems to be getting better.  In fact, it seems to be getting *much* better, *much* faster than this cynical person would have ever thought possible.  Aftergood just reported that decisions to classify new information dropped over 40% last year.


    Not to say that the system isn’t still -crazy- opaque, but that sounds like progress to me.  

Comments are closed.