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The Classification Process

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Scope. Approximately 4,000 federal employees have the authority to classify information, and in 2003, more than 14 million new classified documents were produced. See Eileen Sullivan, Too Much Secrecy: Overclassification Hampers Cooperation, Federal Times, Sep. 13, 2004, at 1.

Process. All 4 of the following conditions must be met:

      1. An OCA must classify the information;
      2. Information must be owned by, produced by or for, or be under the control of the United States Government;
      3. Information must fall within one of the 7 categories of national security information; and
      4. OCA must make two determinations:
        1. Unauthorized disclosure of the information reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national
        2. The OCA can identify or describe the potential damage.
    1. OCA must determine appropriate classification level. Doubts should be resolved in favor of a lower classification level.
    2. When an employee, contractor, licensee, certified holder, or grantee of an
      agency that does not have OCA originates information believed by that
      person to require classification, the information will be protected as if it
      is classified within the meaning of EO 13526. The information will be
      promptly transmitted to an agency with OCA and subject matter interest.
      A decision must be made within 30 days.

Duration. OCA will attempt to establish a specific date or event for declassification, subject to the following guidelines:

      1. If an earlier date or event cannot be identified, the default position is 10 years from date of original decision.
      2. OCA may extend duration of classification for successive time periods not to exceed 10 years per period.
      3. Under the following circumstances, an OCA can exempt from declassification information beyond the 10-year limit, if release would:
        1. Reveal an intelligence source, method, or activity, or cryptologic system or activity;
        2. Reveal information that would assist in the development or use of WMD;
        3. Reveal information that would impair the development or use of technology within a United States weapon system;
        4. Reveal foreign government information;
        5. Damage relations between the United States and a foreign government, reveal a confidential source, or seriously undermine diplomatic activities that are reasonably expected to be ongoing for longer than 10 years;
        6. Impair the ability of United States government officials to protect the President, Vice President, or other individuals for whom protection services in the interest of national security are authorized;
        7. Violate a statute, treaty, or international agreement.

Information Not Subject to Classification.

        1. Sec. 1.7 of EO 13526 provides that information shall not be classified in order to:
          1. Conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;
          2. Prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency;
          3. Restrain competition; or
          4. Prevent or delay the release of information that does not require classification in the interest of national security
        2. Basic scientific information not clearly related to national security may not be classified;
        3. Information may not be reclassified after it has been declassified and released to the public under the proper authority.

Classification Challenges. Authorized holders of information who believe in good faith that the classification status of information is improper are expected to challenge the status.

        1. Agency heads or officials shall establish procedures for challenge.
        2. The procedures shall ensure:
          1. Individuals are not subject to retribution for bringing an action;
          2. An impartial official or panel will review the information;
          3. Individuals may appeal agency decisions to an Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel.

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