What GAO Found
The Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of State (State) have similar processes for formal challenges to the classification of information. For example, if there is reason to believe that information is improperly classified, authorized holders—including executive branch agency or contractor personnel with relevant clearances—can submit a formal classification challenge in writing (see figure). Officials will then review the classification challenge and make a determination. If a formal challenge is denied, the authorized holder can then appeal to senior officials within the agency, and if the agency denies the appeal, the authorized holder can appeal directly to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). ISCAP, established by Executive Order, then issues a decision that is final unless the head of the agency appeals ISCAP’s decision to the President.
Processes for Formal Challenges to the Classification of Information
aIndividual refers to an authorized holder with access to classified information.
Both DOD and State encourage authorized holders to resolve classification challenges informally before pursuing a formal classification challenge. According to DOD and State officials, informal challenges can be done in person, by phone, or by email. For example, officials told GAO that authorized holders can contact the relevant information security office about whether classified documents are marked properly.
According to DOD and State officials, Members of Congress (Members) may use their existing processes to formally and informally challenge the classification of information. However, according to officials from the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which provides support to ISCAP, Members cannot appeal a decision to ISCAP. Instead, Members can appeal to the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), a statutory body that makes recommendations to the President in response to certain congressional requests to evaluate the proper classification of records. DOD officials stated that they do not have any knowledge of ever receiving a formal classification challenge from Members. State officials stated that they did not receive any formal classification challenges from Members in 2017 through 2020. ISOO officials also stated that the panel received its first formal classification challenge from a Member in 2020. ISCAP subsequently denied the challenge and directed the Member to the PIDB.
Why GAO Did This Study
Classified national security information is vital to U.S. national interests. The appropriate protection and handling of this information is a top priority for the executive branch and Congress. Based on guidance, such as Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information, authorized holders with access to classified information may submit a classification challenge if there are reasons to believe information is improperly classified. According to DOD and State officials, Members may also submit a classification challenge.
GAO was asked to review the processes for challenging the classification of national security information. This report describes (1) the processes to challenge the classification of information at DOD and State; and (2) the processes that Members of Congress can use to challenge the classification of information at DOD and State.
GAO reviewed applicable laws and regulations, and DOD, State, and other guidance related to the classification of information and classification challenge processes. GAO also interviewed DOD, State and ISOO officials.
For more information, contact Joe Kirschbaum at (202) 512-9971 or Kirschbaumj@gao.gov.
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- Justice Department Files Enforcement Action Against Bain& Company As Part of Its Investigation Into Visa Inc’s Proposed Acquisition of Plaid IncBy Sam NewsOctober 27, 2020Today, the Department of Justice filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to enforce Bain & Company’s compliance with the department’s Civil Investigative Demand (CID).[Read More…]
- Colorado Tax Evader Sentenced to Prison for Fleeing to Avoid Previously Imposed Prison SentenceBy Sam NewsOctober 9, 2020Colorado tax defier Lawrence Martin Birk was sentenced to an additional 78 months in prison for failing to surrender to serve his previously imposed tax evasion prison sentence and for unlawfully possessing firearms, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.[Read More…]
- U.S. Assistance for the Palestinian PeopleBy Sam NewsMay 26, 2021
- Department of Justice Issues Statement Regarding Decision in Skyworks v. CDCBy Sam NewsMarch 12, 2021More from: March 12, 2021 [Read More…]
- Department of Justice Announces Charges of North Korean and Malaysia Nationals for Bank Fraud, Money Laundering and North Korea Sanctions ViolationsBy Sam NewsSeptember 10, 2020The Department of Justice announced a criminal complaint charging Ri Jong Chol, Ri Yu Gyong, North Korean nationals, and Gan Chee Lim, a Malaysia national. The three were charged with conspiracy to violate North Korean Sanctions Regulations and bank fraud, and conspiracy to launder funds. The defendants allegedly established and utilized front companies that transmitted U.S. dollar wires through the United States to purchase commodities on behalf of North Korean customers.[Read More…]
- Secretary Pompeo’s Remarks to the PressBy Sam NewsMarch 5, 2020
- Defense attorney convictedBy Sam NewsJuly 28, 2021A 48-year-old resident [Read More…]
- Statement of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on the Life of Judge Robert KatzmannBy Sam NewsJune 10, 2021U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland made the following statement on the passing of Judge Robert Katzmann:[Read More…]
- Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson Issues Statement on the Shootings of FBI Special Agents in FloridaBy Sam NewsFebruary 2, 2021This morning FBI Special Agent Daniel Alfin and Special Agent Laura Schwartzenberger were killed in the line of duty and three other agents were wounded while executing a federal court-ordered search warrant in a crimes against children investigation in Sunrise, Florida. Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued the following statement:[Read More…]
- Meet the People Behind NASA’s Perseverance RoverBy Sam NewsIn SpaceSeptember 26, 2020These are the scientists [Read More…]