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DoD Reviewing Information Classification Decisions

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2004 – The Defense Department is probably overly cautious in classifying information that doesn't necessarily require it and is reviewing the situation, a senior DoD intelligence official told a House subcommittee Aug. 24.

Carol Haave, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, spoke to members of the House Government Reform Committee's National Security, Emergency Threats and International Relations Subcommittee. The group met during Congress' summer recess to ponder the problem of overclassification that may limit the information sharing required to fight terrorism.

Haave told the subcommittee the penchant for protecting information within the Defense Department isn't designed to hide it, but rather, reflects a culture in which "people have a tendency to err on the side of caution."

But Rep. Christopher Shays, subcommittee chair, said the government has "too many secrets" and that modern-day threats demand a more judicious determination of what's protected and what's not.

"The old maxim of military strategy warns, 'He who protects everything protects nothing,'" he said. "The old Cold War paradigm of 'need to know' must give way to the modern strategic imperative, 'need to share.'"

Responding to questions from the group, Haave said the department is taking another look at decisions made to classify sections of several recent reports, including the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program and Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba's report about Abu Ghraib prison abuses in Iraq. In the Taguba report, for example, Haave said identical information was deemed classified in one section and unclassified in another a problem she said will be resolved soon, following a security review.

Haave said a Defense Department group is also reviewing classification and declassification issues regarding detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "And where there are impasses, where people cannot come to agreement, those things will now be brought forward to me and I will make the final classification decision," she told the lawmakers. "That is new in the Department of Defense."

The department must ensure that people are properly classifying information so they can contribute to a trusted information network that spans federal, state and local government agencies, Haave said.

However, the Defense Department is just one of many contributors to that network's success, she pointed out. Common standards and protocols are needed that promote information sharing, she said, "and that's an issue that's above any one department."

Haave told the lawmakers initiatives already under way, including one between the Defense Department and CIA, will help speed up information sharing and ensure that "people get the information that they're entitled to and not information that they're not."

Improved information sharing will benefit the military as much as other organizations, she said. "For example, if another organization has information that is relative to the Department of Defense and the protection of lives, we would like to have that information released to protect our forces," she said.

The extent of the information sharing, she said, basically boils down to a question of "risk and how much risk we're willing to take," Haave told the subcommittee. "Is it that one person could be saved, 10 people could be saved, 100 people, 1,000, 10,000? At what point does that risk decision come into play and how do we make that decision on the best interest of the nation?"

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