"In an apparent expansion of the government's secrecy powers, the top official in charge of the classification system has decided that it was legitimate for the Marines to classify photographs that showed American forces posing with corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan," reports the NYT's Charlie Savage.
President Obama's 2009 Executive Order on National Security Information stated "In no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error, or "prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency." Not anymore.
Information Security Oversight Office director John P. Fitzpatrick accepted the argument made by the Marines for classifying the photographs: the photos could encourage attacks against US troops.
The decision stands in contrast to the government's position in a legal fight over hundreds of photographs depicting the abuse of detainees in Iraq, which the American Civil Liberties Union sought in a long-running Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
In that case, military officials raised similar concerns that disseminating the photographs could cause significant harm, provoking attacks on forces in the war zone. But neither the Bush nor the Obama administration claimed they were classified. Instead, Congress passed a special law in 2009 allowing the secretary of defense to block the photographs' release.
J. William Leonard, a former director of the information office, called the move "a significant and disturbing shift" in the government's secrecy policy.
"As recently as five years ago, all three branches of government agreed that the executive did not have power to classify such images," Mr. Leonard said.