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20.5M Decisions to Classify Documents

Monday, July 16, 2007

By PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer

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WASHINGTON — 

There were 20.5 million decisions to classify government secrets last year, and a report to the president found serious shortcomings in the process.

The Information Security Oversight Office said more than 1 in 10 documents it reviewed lacked a basis for classification, "calling into question the propriety" of the decisions to place them off limits to public disclosure.

"The high error rate," the ISOO said in its annual review, can only be addressed by a multifaceted effort and continuous oversight.

The report comes as the office of Vice President Dick Cheney is refusing to cooperate with the office of the National Archives. The report noted that Cheney's office "did not report data to ISOO this year."

Executive branch agencies give the ISOO data on how much material they classify and declassify. Cheney's office provided the information in 2001 and 2002, then stopped.

"The reviews of actual decision making are striking, given the vice president's refusal to report" to the ISOO, said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, a private group advocating public disclosure of government secrets.

The White House says it's clear that the president's executive order on the matter never intended for the vice president's office to be treated as an agency.

The ISOO said the Pentagon reported a 35 percent decline in its activity to classify documents, and that the amount of classification government-wide declined for the second straight year.

However, the amount of derivative classification activity rose by more than 6 million actions.

Derivative classification is the act of incorporating in a new form information that has already been classified.

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