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Government keeps national security secrets hush, hush

The number of workers and companies involved in the world of Top Secret America is quite large. An estimated 854,000 Americans have top-secret clearances and nearly 2,000 companies do secret work for 46 government agencies.

A new report from Openthegovernment.org, a coalition of public interest organizations, says that even though the U.S. government is declassifying more materials than in the past, secrets abound. And it says the government is struggling to keep up with the volume of information post 9/11 that it has to review to decide whether to classify or declassify materials.

"The major trends we're seeing is that there was a massive swelling of the classified world after 9/11 and even though the government is declassifying it a bit faster, they're falling further behind as the swell of classified moves through the system," said Amy Bennett, program associate at Openthegovernment.org and one of the author's of the report.

The group's 22-page "Secrecy Report Card, Indicators of Secrecy in the Federal Government," said that the number of "original classification decisions" -- or in laymen's terms the number of national security secrets-- that were classified dropped by 10 percent to 183,224.

But the group points out that the U.S. government is still keeping plenty of secrets. More than 35 percent of the classified information that's created, copied, and sent by e-mail is considered top secret.

The report looked at data from the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is under the National Archives, and publicly available reports and information from the Justice Department, the Government Accountability Office, and the General Services Administration to put together its analysis.

Among the more interesting stats in the Openthegovernment.org report:

*For every dollar the government spent declassifying documents in 2009, it spent $196 million maintaining the secrets already on the books. The group said it looked at data from the departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, State, and Treasury. But not some of the most super secret agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Security Agency. They footnote that the expenditures of those agencies "are classified and not publicly reported."

*Last year, the government declassified 28.8 million pieces of paper. That's down 31.4 million in 2008.

*Government agencies received more than 7,800 new, initial requests for "mandatory declassification reviews" of materials that come from a range of people including historians, journalists and public interest groups. Almost 70 percent of the pages were declassified in full; 24 percent in part. But the report notes there's a backlog - 6,000 of the requests were carried over into 2010 and still have to be reviewed

*Secret inventions remain hush, hush. The U.S. government imposed secrecy orders on 103 new patents, an increase of 51 percent from 2008.

*The Justice Department said that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved 1,376 orders to do electronic surveillance and physical searches of suspected foreign intelligence agents and terrorists, the report said. That's down from 2,083 in 2008.

*The number of closed-door meetings rose to 7,221 in 2009, compared with 6,840 in 2008. The Defense Department, Department of Health and Human Services and the National Science Foundation account for most of the closed-door meetings.

*Classified or "black" programs accounted for $35 billion, or 16 percent of the Pentagon's acquisition funding. That's up from $33.8 billion in 2008.

By Dana Hedgpeth  |  September 14, 2010; 12:50 PM ET
 
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Comments

"Government keeps national security secrets hush, hush"

Other headlines you might see in the Post today:
"Doctors Say Nutrition is Healthy"
"Soda Found To Contain Tiny Bubbles"
"My Cat's Breath Smells Like Cat Food"

Posted by: jesusHhong | September 14, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful! A moribund institution (The Post) trying to cover a dysfunctional and increasingly irrelevant establishment (the IC). Only aficionados of the absurd such as myself would even bother to read such dreck.

Posted by: retiredreader | September 14, 2010 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Hi jesusHhong - I see you comment quite regularly on the Top Secret America Blog. Thanks! And your comment today made me laugh. Thanks again! Dana Hedgpeth, author of the Top Secret America blog.

Posted by: Dana Hedgpeth | September 15, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Seriously? Ms. Obvious to the rescue! Dana, keeping secrets secret is like noting that lemons taste lemony. The Post's credibility keeps getting knocked a few notches lower and lower when you publish stuff like this. If you want a "real" and current topic to report on, Federal agencies hope to start hiring government workers by using resumes rather than a knowledge and skills assessment test. Or the fact that DefSec Gates said they aren't seeing cost savings from their insourcing initiative. Top Secret America could have been an enlightening series, but has been discussing the obvious since it's launch in July.

Posted by: DannyT45 | September 15, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Hi DannyT45, thanks for writing. Yes you raise two interesting points -- both of which we've done stories on in the Post. Yes, Gates hasn't been able to reach his insourcing goals which is why he's pushing some new efforts (search and you'll find several stories on this topic on the Post). And re the hiring process -- again, we've written about this. But since you brought it up, I am looking for examples of people in the IC world who are trying to get hired by the government and leaving the contracting world. I'd like to know how they are finding the experience, given that the government said it was going to try to make it faster and easier. Known anyone who fits that bill? Send them my way, please -- Dana Hedgpeth, author of Top Secret America blog. hedgpethd@washpost.com

Posted by: hedgpethd | September 15, 2010 11:39 PM | Report abuse

it is reasonable to presume that every intelligence agency operates qualitatively, pretty much, exactly like the United States Post Office.

Posted by: John_Chas_Webb | September 20, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

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