Space Operations Chief Decries Over-classification and its Effect on Operations

Speaking last week (March 3, 2021) at a virtual event hosted by the National Press Club, the U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond reiterated complaints about the over-classification of space information previously voiced by several U.S. Space Force and military officials. Gen. Raymond particularly stressed the importance of reducing over-classification to strengthen deterrence and integration. Regarding deterrence, he argued: “I am convinced that if you want to change the deterrence calculus, if you will, of an adversary, you have to be able to communicate. If you have everything classified, that really erodes your ability to deter conflict…you have to be able to talk about it” He also considered over-classification an impediment to improved integration with the acquisitions and contractor community, as well as between Allied and Joint coalition partners: “we work very closely with the acquisitions community, to allow more access to commercial industry… to classified, to allow them to integrate more effectively with us.”

Gen. Raymond’s concerns about over-classification follow public complaints consistently expressed by current and former Department of Defense (DOD) officials since the establishment of the U.S. Space Force in December 2019. That month, then-Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett insisted that “declassifying some of what is currently held in secure vaults would be a good idea.”Additionally, current Vice Chairman of the Joint Staff Gen. John Hyten spoke repeatedly about the need for secrecy reform to strengthen deterrence in space, and he emphatically described DOD classification cases as “just so overclassified it’s ridiculous, just unbelievably ridiculous.

In a Defense News op-ed published in July 2020 by former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work further argued that “the rewards for sharing pale against the penalties of mishandling highly classified space information.” They specifically called for a new “high-level commission of former officers and officials to recommend a better system” to protect information while facilitating information sharing “across acquisition programs, between programs and operational forces, and between the intelligence community and operational forces.”

In speaking to the National Press Club last week, Gen. Raymond responded to questions about the U.S. Space Force’s work towards reducing classification. He discussed how the Space Force is currently “developing a strategy… not one piece at a time,” but “an over-arching strategy” that includes working with stakeholders, including the acquisition community and partners. He indicated that he felt there was a requirement to reduce classification and its strategy to do this is by focusing on its mission to deter conflict in space and increase integration with stakeholders. His comments support earlier comments “to go fast” on reducing classification and over-classification in an April 2020 Report to Congress.

The public concerns of DOD officials about the negative consequences of over-classification echo the work of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) in Recommendations and Reports to the President since 2008. The urgent need for secrecy reform expressed by Gen. Raymond throughout the past year particularly aligns with the call for modernization in the PIDB’s 2020 Report to the President.

That report also recommends the coordination of improvements in declassification that would support the integration of information sharing that Gen. Raymond continues to advance “sooner than later.”

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