The Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that directs the Chief of Space Operations for the U.S. Space Force to oversee a classification review of space information with the intent of either declassifying or reducing the classification levels of space information. Titled “Classification Review of Programs of the Space Force,” Section 1603 requires “the Chief of Space Operations to conduct a classification review of each classified program under the authority of the Space Force to determine if any programs should be reclassified or declassified. The review would need to be conducted in coordination with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, and any other heads of elements of the Department of Defense as appropriate. This section would also require the Chief of Space Operations to submit a report to the congressional defense committees on any programs that would be subject to a classification change due to the review conducted.”
The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) has long spoken about the need to reform the classification and declassification system. In its most recent report to the President, A Vision for the Digital Age: Modernization of the U.S. National Security Classification and Declassification System, it advocated for modernizing policies and processes as a means to cut costs, improve the effectiveness and efficiency of agency operations, reduce unnecessary classification and over-classification, improve information-sharing, and increase transparency and citizen access to Government information.
PIDB Member John Tierney testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in September 2020 and spoke about the need to modernize the U.S. Secrecy system. Mr. Tierney said:
“Our recommendations align with the DNI’s 2019 National Intelligence Strategy “to do things differently”…There is widespread agreement that the declassification system is at a breaking point. It simply cannot effectively handle the volume of digital data generated each day. It cannot handle the volume of records requiring declassification review. Declassification processes remain much the same from when they were first developed in the Truman administration in an era when secrets were created on paper and secured in safes. Without reform, it will be far worse in the future…Just as the declassification system is about to collapse, over-classification is getting worse and harming current government national security operations. Recently, LTG James Dickinson, the President’s nominee to lead the U.S. Space Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that over-classification was “making it more difficult for us to support the warfighter.” In this example, over-classification not only affects operations and missions. But it can lead to costly duplication of space systems, limit innovation, diminish private sector support and reduce development of new technologies on projects that could aid U.S. space dominance.
The PIDB has also written three blog posts urging secrecy reform as a critical national security imperative by using the over-classification of space information as an example of how outdated policies harm national security.
The FY 2022 NDAA is a first step and an opportunity for the Executive branch and those agencies creating and using space-related information to “think differently” by reducing over-classification and eliminating unnecessary classification.