What We Heard and Learned at our June 25th Public Meeting

The June 25th meeting of the Public Interest Declassification Board was an opportunity for the PIDB members to meet with stakeholders who share a commitment to bringing about transformation to the security classification system. In particular, this meeting was an opportunity for the PIDB to continue advocating for the increased use of new and existing technologies to improve declassification.

The PIDB members recommended in our 2012 Report to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System improving technology investments overall and piloting the use of technological solutions to advance automation and advanced analytics to assist declassifiers in making review decisions. Following the inclusion of these recommendations in the President’s Second Open Government Action Plan (NAP), the PIDB is now focusing its work on studying the current state of technological investments in declassification across government.

In this effort, the PIDB announced at the public meeting the creation of its Declassification Technology Working Group. Chaired by former PIDB member Admiral William Studeman (ret.), this newly established working group consists of agency technologists who will work together for the first time to identify areas of concern and find and advance solutions to the challenges specifically facing declassification.

The public meeting was also an opportunity to showcase many of the achievements and plans underway concerning technology commitments found in the NAP. We were fortunate to have Deputy Chief Technology Officer of the United States, Alexander Macgillivray, give remarks about the President’s desire for more technology and expertise in government as a vehicle for the Administration’s commitment to open government. Using the launch of healthcare.gov as an example, he stressed the need for information technology expertise in implementing policy. He outlined three areas of focus for the Administration: improving policy implementation, bringing more technology understanding into government and using technology to change the engagement between citizens and the government. His remarks also included examples of specific initiatives being driven at the White House to advance these areas: engaging agency Chief Information Officers through the Office of the CIO of the United States to solve cross-government technology challenges, raising the standard of technology products and services within government through the work of the U.S. Digital Service and improving government processes by reaching out to citizens in industry, academia and the nonprofit section through the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. We wish, once again, to thank him for joining us and participating in our discussion.

We also wish to thank Dr. Cheryl Martin for presenting the results of the pilot projects conducted at the Center for Content Understanding at the Applied Research Laboratories that examined the ability to achieve machine-assisted sensitive content identification in classified records. Dr. Martin and her team of scientists and engineers conducted these pilots on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Archives. Notably, the pilot achieved dramatically accurate identification of classified information in email records created during the Reagan Administration, which has significant promise of being able to assist equity identification of content containing agency-owned classified information. The PIDB has been a proponent of the CCU’s work in this area for some time. It continues to believe these pilot projects need to advance and expand into new areas of research and that positive outcomes derived from these pilots need to be implemented into current practices at agencies once proven. Dr. Martin’s briefing is available online here and her slide presentation is available for viewing here.

We wish to thank the Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, and his staff for hosting the meeting at the National Archives and Records Administration. We also thank the Archivist for discussing in his remarks the many ways he is committed to leading the National Archives in terms of technology. His desire to improve access to government information and his support of our efforts to encourage the government in this area are critical to the long-term preservation of our nation’s records.

Moreover, this meeting was an opportunity to recognize the changing membership of the PIDB and to welcome publicly the two newest members of the PIDB, Laura DeBonis and Solomon Watson. Each gave introductory remarks and each received a signed commission certificate from the President in honor of their respective appointments.

Since the last public meeting, three PIDB members concluded their third and final terms as members: Martin Faga, David Skaggs and Adm. William Studeman (ret.). With the assistance of the Archivist, the PIDB members presented Mr. Faga, Mr. Skaggs and Adm. Studeman each with a reproduction of the “Seven Samples of Secret Ink” report. The report is dated October 30, 1917 and it was classified “Confidential” for many years. It details descriptions of various “secret writing” techniques. In April 19, 2011, the CIA declassified this information and made it public. This report was thought to be the oldest classified record held by the government as it was created in 1917. The members hoped these reproductions would serve as reminders of their time as members of the PIDB and that they would convey thanks and appreciation for their dedicated service.

Finally, we would like to thank you, the public, for attending this meeting and for remaining engaged on this very important topic. The members of the PIDB take our responsibility of representing the public very seriously as we complete their work and respond to the requests made by the President. We understand we would be unable to effect meaningful change without public participation and a willing spirit from the agencies to work collaboratively for the greater good of the people. We look forward to continuing the conversation on all issues concerning the transformation of the security classification system, including advancing technological solutions in support of declassification, and assisting the President in meeting his Open Government commitments.

A recording of the public meeting will be available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ApwyaB4ldQ (PIDB meeting transcript 06.25.2015)


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