In what would be a significant break with precedent, the Obama administration may be about to issue an order ruling that national security information cannot remain classified indefinitely.
Specifically, a draft of an administration executive order states that all records should be automatically declassified after no more than 50 years; records that identify a confidential human intelligence source would be declassified after no more than 75 years, according to the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News blog.
According to Secrecy News, the draft is subject to revision, has yet to be sent to the White House for review and approval and is being closely guarded:
Release of the "highly deliberative draft" executive order was specifically denied by National Security Advisory Gen. James L. Jones in a September 2, 2009 letter [obtained by the blog.]
In the letter, Jones states: "I believe that we have an historic opportunity to refine the existing Order now and to begin planning a classification system of the future that promotes innovation and deals more effectively with the challenge of classified digital data."
The draft also includes the establishment of a National Declassification Center "to facilitate interagency review of historical records", training of classification officials in order to avoid overclassification and a requirement to "identify by name those who derivatively classify information originally classified by others in order to improve accountability".
The order does include some elements that do not seem conducive to transparency, affirming that "no agency may declassify information that originated in another agency... without the consent of the originating agency", it fails to include a "declassification database" to facilitate access to declassified records and it continues to grant veto authority over declassification decisions to the CIA.
Read the draft order: