Secretary of state warns of ‘overclassification’: Secrecy stamp endemic in US government

Secretary of state warns of ‘overclassification’: Secrecy stamp endemic in US government
Fear and caution are causing US government officials to classify too many documents, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted. It is estimated the government spends $11 billion to classify over 80 million documents every year.

“There’s a massive amount of overclassification,” Kerry told the Huffington Post, touching on the scandal over his predecessor’s private email server. “People just stamp it on quickly because it's a way to sort of be correct if anybody had a judgment that somehow they had been wrong about whether it should be classified or not. So the easy thing is classify it and put it away.”

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Kerry’s comments may sound like hyperbole, but if anything, they appear to be an understatement. Every year, the US government spends over $11 billion to classify more than 80 million documents, according to a 2013 report by the National Archives and Records Administration.

The government’s propensity to classify everything and anything has even been (gently) mocked by an advertising campaign for Clearance Jobs, a company that connects recruiters with job-seekers who have a federal security clearance. One of the company’s ads in the Washington, DC mass transit system features a “Secret Squirrel” asking who classified his lunch.

A bill aiming to curb the over-classification was proposed in July 2014 by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Bennie G. Thompson (D-Mississippi). In the fact sheet attached to the Clearance and Over-Classification Reform and Reduction (CORRECT) Act, Wyden and Thompson cite an estimate that the government has classified anywhere between 7.5 billion and 1 trillion pages.

According to one estimate, a single intelligence agency produces 1 petabyte of classified records every 1.5 years, which is comparable to “approximately 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text, or about 13.3 years of High-Definition video.”

Wyden and Thompson’s proposal has been stuck in the Senate subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations since September 2014.