Hearing on Overclassification
of Government Documents
Emerging Threats: Overclassification and Psuedo-Classification, House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on National
Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, March 2, 2005.Shays Holds Hearing on Overclassification: "Last year, more federal officials classified more information,
and declassified less, than the year before. In our previous hearing on official secrecy policies, the Department of Defense
(DOD) witness estimated that fully half of all the data deemed "Confidential," "Secret" or "Top Secret" by the Pentagon was
needlessly or improperly withheld from public view. Further resisting the call to move from a 'need to know" to a "need to
share" standard, some agencies have become proliferators of new categories of shielded data. Legally ambiguous markings like
"Sensitive but Unclassified", "Sensitive Homeland Security Information" and "For Official Use Only" create new bureaucratic
barriers to information sharing. These pseudo-classifications can have persistent and pernicious practical effects on the
flow of threat information."
Public Access to Unclassified Data Blocked By Unnecessary Restrictions
Hearing, Too Many Secrets: Overclassification as a Barrier to Critical
Information Sharing, Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Permanent Link Topic(s):
Congress, Freedom of Information, Government Documents, Legal Research
Shays Holds Hearing on Overclassification
March 3, 2005
Dear 9/11 Families
Congressman Christopher Shays, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and
International Relations, held an oversight hearing today about the proliferation of categories of information that are not
classified but are withheld from public disclosure. Overclassification of documents has been an area of concern.
are press releases from Congressman Shays and Congresswoman Maloney.
Mother of Brad Fetchet,
Voices of September 11th, Founding Director
Shays Holds Hearing on Overclassification
Washington, D.C. - Today, Congressman Christopher Shays, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging
Threats and International Relations, held an oversight hearing about the proliferation of categories of information that are
not classified but are withheld from public disclosure. This was a follow-up to a previous hearing on overclassification,
which was cited by the 9/11 Commission as a serious impediment to the information sharing required to thwart future terrorist
attacks.. Shays is Co-Chair of the 9/11 Commission Caucus. Below is Shays' statement followed by the hearing witness list.
"The Cold War cult of secrecy remains largely impervious to the new security imperatives of the post-9/11 world. Overclassification
is a direct threat to national security.
"Last year, more federal officials classified more information, and declassified
less, than the year before. In our previous hearing on official secrecy policies, the Department of Defense (DOD) witness
estimated that fully half of all the data deemed "Confidential," "Secret" or "Top Secret" by the Pentagon was needlessly or
improperly withheld from public view. Further resisting the call to move from a "need to know" to a "need to share" standard,
some agencies have become proliferators of new categories of shielded data. Legally ambiguous markings like "Sensitive but
Unclassified", "Sensitive Homeland Security Information" and "For Official Use Only" create new bureaucratic barriers to information
sharing. These pseudo-classifications can have persistent and pernicious practical effects on the flow of threat information.
"The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission) concluded that, "Current
security requirements nurture overclassification and excessive compartmentation of information among agencies. Each agency's
incentive structure opposes sharing, with risks (criminal, civil and internal administrative sanctions) but few rewards for
sharing information. No one has to pay the long-term costs of over-classifying information, though these costs... are substantial."
"Those costs are measured in lives as well as dollars. Somewhere in the vast cache of data that never should have
been classified, and may never be declassified, is that tiny nugget of information that, if shared, could be used to detect
and prevent the next deadly terrorist attack.
"Recently enacted reforms should help focus and coordinate disparate
elements of the so-called "intelligence community" to broaden our view of critical threat information. The previously ignored,
and still unfunded, Public Interest Declassification Board has new authority to push for executive branch adherence to disclosure
standards, particularly with regard to congressional committee requests.
"But those promising initiatives still confront
deeply entrenched habits and cultures of excessive secrecy. The 9/11 Commission successfully worked through security barriers
to access and publish the information they needed. But as soon as the Commission's legal mandate expired, heavy-handed classification
practices reasserted themselves. As a result, release of the final staff report on threats to civil aviation was delayed.
And the version finally made public contains numerous redactions, some of which needlessly seek to shield information already
released by other agencies.
"The Cold War was a struggle of the Industrial Age. The global war against terrorism is
being waged, and must be won, by the new rules of the Information Age. Data and knowledge are the strategic elements of power.
With just a few keystrokes, individuals and groups can now acquire technologies and capabilities once the sole province of
nation-states. Modern, adaptable networks asymmetrically attack the rigid, hierarchical structures of the past.
this environment, there is security in sharing, not hording, information that many more people need to know. We asked our
witnesses this afternoon to help us assess the impact of current access restrictions on efforts to create the trusted networks
and new information sharing pathways critical to our national security. We look forward to their testimony."
Mr. J. William Leonard, Director
Security Oversight Office
National Archives and Records Administration
RADM Christopher A. McMahon, USMS
Director, Departmental Office of Intelligence, Security, and Emergency Response
United States Department of Transportation
Mr. Harold Relyea
Specialist in American National Government
Congressional Research Service (CRS)
Library of Congress
Mr. Richard Ben-Veniste
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Mr. Thomas Blanton&
National Security Archive
George Washington University
Mr. Harry A. Hammitt
Editor and Publisher
Access Reports: Freedom of Information
*Ms. Sibel Edmonds*
Former Contract Linguist,
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Questionable Handling of Intelligence
suspicious treatment of 9/11 Commission monograph
by Rep. Maloney
WASHINGTON, DC - In an insightful
hearing on the questionable handling of intelligence since 9/11, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security,
Emerging Threats and International Relations examined lax procedures at the FBI and the Department of Justice's strange handling
of the 9/11 Commission monograph on aviation. The hearing marked the first time FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds has appeared
before Congress. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), who has repeatedly requested the full public release of the commission's monograph,
also directed sharp questions to Department of Justice representatives about the delayed release and seemingly spurious redaction
of the monograph.
"This hearing confirms for me three
unsettling things - that we didn't have our act together before 9/11, that the FBI didn't get its act together after 9/11
and that our government doesn't want the truth about that to get out," said Maloney. "Ms. Edmonds's testimony was a disconcerting
look into our intelligence community. You would think that, learning important lessons from 9/11, the FBI would be more diligent
in its work, but it appears that a September 10th mentality is still in place over there.
"52 intelligence reports from the
FAA between April and September 10, 2001 mentioned Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda. Five of the intelligence
reports specifically mentioned Al Qaeda's training or capability to conduct hijackings, and two mentioned suicide operations,
although not connected to aviation. I have concerns that the Bush Administration abused the classification process to improperly
withhold the 9/11 Commission findings from Congress and the public until after the November elections and the confirmation
of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State."
was fired from her job as an FBI translator after publicly disclosing the incompetence of many FBI translators hired after
9/11, the close contact between some of her colleagues and organizations under watch by the FBI and FBI employees' practice
of taking classified information home.
Also under scrutiny at the hearing
was the treatment of the 9/11 commission's monograph on aviation threats. A heavily-redacted copy of the monograph was finally
released to the National Archives in late January 2005 - it was the only monograph not released before the election and it
was the only commission report to be redacted. In December, Maloney and Rep. Christopher Shays (CT-04) requested the full
release of the monograph
and they repeated that request in
February after it became public that the redacted monograph was released to the National Archives
in February, Maloney and Rep. Henry Waxman (CA-30) requested full hearings into the monograph
Today, Maloney demanded to know why the Department of Justice claimed it was taking its time with
the monograph so as not to release any information that would compromise national security, then ended up redacting parts
of the monograph that were taken from public hearings (for an example of the redactions, click here:
The monograph cites scores of ignored
warnings to the FAA in the months before 9/11 about the possibility of hijackings by al Qaeda.
Voices of September 11th ("Voices") is a non-profit
9/11 family advocacy group providing information and resources for 9/11 families and survivors. Voices of September 11th makes
every effort to present accurate information and to provide an open forum to discuss the related issues. Visit our web site
for more information www.voicesofsept11.org