Obama Launches Review of Secrecy Policy
By Carrie Johnson
President Obama this afternoon directed his national security adviser and senior Cabinet officials to examine whether the government keeps too much information secret.
In a memo, Obama acknowledged problems with excessive classification of documents kept from the public eye for years and affirmed that he remains "committed to operating with an unprecedented level of openness."
Obama tasked national security adviser Gen. James Jones to canvas executive branch officials about their procedures for handling classified information and to make recommendations about better information sharing.
The president also said that turf battles and technology continued to pose obstacles to dissemination of sensitive but unclassified national security information among federal agencies with their partners in states and the private sector.
To help clear the path, Obama yesterday created a task force to study that and related issues for 90 days, putting at the helm Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Government officials representing a broad swath of agencies will review procedures for labeling and sharing sensitive information to make sure that the needs of law enforcement, privacy and civil liberties "strike the proper balance," the memo said.
Obama also proposed the creation of a National Declassification Center to streamline procedures for releasing classified information, when appropriate, under the guidance of the Archivist of the United States. The broad initiative is in line with an executive order issued by Obama Jan. 21, when he promised to move forward with "a presumption in favor of openness."
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, praised the move as a way to "set the wheels in motion."
"This is music to the ears of many of us," Aftergood said, "but the hard work remains to be done -- how to translate these goals into policies."
Posted at 7:01 PM ET on May 27, 2009
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