U.S. Government’s Secret Documents Filled with Classification Errors

Thursday, October 03, 2013
Justice Dept. IG Michael Horowitz (photo: Steve Applewhite, AP)

An investigation into the federal government’s system for keeping information secret from the public found numerous mistakes by officials responsible for classifying documents.


As called for in the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) carried out its first audit of the $9.7 billion system used to classify materials.


The IG reviewed 141 documents and found 357 “marking errors,” which amounted to an average of more than two mistakes per document.


Errors included missing, incomplete or wrong information, according to IG Michael Horowitz, who nonetheless said in his report that he “did not find indications of widespread misclassification.”


Examples noted by Horowitz included a Federal Bureau of Investigation official classifying a terrorist watch list that was supposed to be public information, and an official from the Justice Department’s National Security Division who shielded unclassified laws, statutes and designations from otherwise classified documents, according to Courthouse News Service (CNS).


The audit, “in a way, [was] a missed opportunity,” Steven Aftergood, director for the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, told CNS. While it was “a useful exercise that identified some significant flaws in Justice classification practices,” he wrote in an email, “they don't get to the root of the problem of overclassification…[which] is not technical errors in classification, but mistakes in judgment about what to classify.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

U.S. Probe Into Overclassification Finds Papers Riddled With Errors (by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service)

Audit of the Department of Justice’s Implementation of and Compliance with Certain Classification Requirements (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General) (pdf)

81 Boxes of Top-Secret and Restricted Documents Missing at National Archives (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Former Classification Chief Files Complaint against Overclassification (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Classified Documents on the Rise Despite Obama Talk of Transparency (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)         


Leave a comment