How much does it cost to protect the nation’s secrets? According to a new report by the Information Security Oversight Office it cost $11 billion per year. That doesn’t include the cost of protecting the secrets of spy agencies such as the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
The New York Times reports that the ISOO chief, John Fitzpatrick, said that including the spy agencies would increase the spending total by “less than 20 percent.” That means that the United States more than likely spends more than $13 billion per year securing secrets.
The report details who makes the decision to classify material (Original Classifiers), how much material is originally classified (Original Classification), and how much material was classified based on Original Classification (Derivative Classification).
The number of Original Classification Authorities fell from more than 7,000 in 1980 to less than 2,400 in 2011. Original Classification activity went through a similar drop from a peak of more than 511,000 in 1999 to 127,000 in 2011. Both categories saw a spike in the numbers after the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks.
Derivative Classification activity has seen the opposite shift. From 1996 to 2011 Derivative Classification activity increase from 5.6 million to 92 million. There has simultaneously been a decrease in the number of people with the authority to classify material and a massive increase in the amount of material being classified.
Additionally the amount of information being declassified is decreasing. The report states that from 1980 through 2011 1.49 billion pages of material was declassified. In 1997, 204 million pages of material was declassified, and the number of pages has steadily decreased. In 2011 just 26.7 million pages, the lowest amount recorded in the report, of material was declassified.
Critics, such as director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists Steven Aftergood, suggest that the reason for the high cost is because of the lack of declassifying old secrets and over classifying current secrets.
In an interview with the Times, Aftergood said that “To me it illustrates the most important problem — namely that we are classifying far too much information. The credibility of the classification system is collapsing under the weight of bogus secrets.”
At the FAS Project on Government Secrecy blog, Aftergood criticizes the report, in particular for its exclusion of agencies such as CIA, DIA, ODNI, NGA, NRO and NSA. Aftergood lays out the case for this in more detail:
First, the secret intelligence cost numbers are estimates, not actual expenditures. (“Requiring agencies to provide exact responses to the cost collection efforts would be cost prohibitive,” ISOO said.) The potential intelligence value of such estimates to a hostile intelligence service is vanishingly small, particularly since their accuracy is variable and uncertain.
Second, the disclosure of the cost estimates for non-intelligence agencies, which has had no adverse effect on the security programs of those agencies, is a strong indication that no damage can result from release of such information. If publication of the non-intelligence classification cost estimates had caused any kind of harm over the years, those estimates would not be published. But of course they haven’t, and so they are.
Thus, one is led to conclude that the classification of the intelligence agency classification cost estimates is not threat-driven, but instead is “culture”-based. The disclosure of the estimates would not cause identifiable damage to national security, which means this information has been classified in violation of executive order 13526.
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