Obama Orders Classification Review

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The White House ordered a bow-to-stern review of the government's policies for controlling classified and so-called "sensitive, but unclassified" information yesterday, a step that's likely to end the Bush-era preference for keeping thusly designated data private. 
Attorney General Eric Holder and Janet Napolitano, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, will lead the review, along with a new task force to be staffed by officials from several government departments and independent agencies. President Obama wants to create a National Declassification Center that would speed adjudication of disputes over classified information, and, in a nod to intelligence reform, wants a government-wide assessment of how classified information is controlled, marked, disseminated and protected.  Dozens of classified designations protect hundreds of different channels and systems for processing and disseminating classified data, and the result is a patchwork of rules, regulations and often confusing processes. Policy makers at all levels have complained that the current system of classification overprotects output and discourages information sharing.

A presidential memo orders the task force to jusitfy information categories that ought to be withheld, rather than asking them to justify why releasing them to the public would be harmful.

The memo also seeks an "[a]ppropriate prohibition of reclassification of material that has been declassified and released to the public under proper authority," as authorities reclassified tens of thousands of previously declassified documents during the Bush administration.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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