In a recent response to a Freedom of Information Act request PPSA submitted in 2020, the National Security Agency released a record showing an exponential – no, make that mind-blowing – increase in the number of “derivative classification” decisions.
In plain English, “derivative classification” describes the decision to classify a document because it incorporates, paraphrases, restates, or generates in new form information that is already classified.
Makes sense, right? Now explain this.
NSA released forms showing that the number of derivative classification decisions in just that agency increased from approximately 11,500 in 2007-2008, to over 20 million in 2008-2009, and to more than 35 million in 2010. That’s an increase of more than 304,000 percent!
And, while recent years have seen a decrease – 23 million in 2013 and 7 million in 2017, these are still eye-popping increases over the 2008 level of 11,544.
What might explain this explosive reliance on derivative classification? Perhaps it is a response to President Obama’s Executive Order 13526, which was meant to stem the tide of classified documents and to prevent agencies from classifying documents “for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment.”
Does the explosive increase in derivative documents decisions represent the bureaucracy’s work-around President Obama’s order? Overtly classified documents grew from 55 million when President Obama issued his order to 77.5 million five years later. Are these newly released numbers evidence the government is using the derivative classification mechanism to enlarge the classified state even more?
Yet another good question for Congress to ask. In the meantime, PPSA has recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking NSA, as well as the FBI and Office of the Director of Intelligence, to produce documents that would explain wild fluctuations in derivative classification and increases in hiring and software purchases to handle such volumes.
We will report any details PPSA receives that might explain this explosive growth of derivative classification.