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Gov't Classification Decisions Hit Record

Associated Press | April 5, 2005

WASHINGTON - Shhhh. The federal government is keeping more secrets than usual — and keeping most of them under wraps far longer. The Information Security Oversight Office, a government agency that reviews security classification programs, says federal employees issued a record 15.6 million decisions to classify information last year, a 10 percent increase from 2003.

When employees could choose how long to keep information classified, they chose the longer period — up to 25 years — two out of three times, the oversight office said. From 1996 to 2003 they chose the shorter period — less than 10 years — about half the time, the office said.

An advocacy group, OpenTheGovernment.org, said in a statement Tuesday that the statistics "show that Congress and the executive branch have failed thus far to set adequate checks and balances on secrecy in the federal government."

The oversight office, which is part of the National Archives, said Monday in its 2004 report to the president that agencies declassified 28.4 million pages of records, the lowest number since 1994.

However, the agency said an increase in the number of classification decisions can't necessarily be attributed to overclassification of documents. It noted that a new structure for homeland security and the war on terrorism had taken place in the last three years.

"Is it simply a reflection of an increase in legitimate classification decisions as a result of the upsurge in the tempo of national security operations?" the report asked. "The system for classifying national security information is an essential and proven tool for defending our nation."

The oversight office said the number of classification decisions in the previous four years were 11.2 million in 2000, 8.7 million in 2001, 11.3 million in 2002, and 14.2 million in 2003.

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