Historians can take decades to write important stories about critical events by verifying facts and sifting through archives. Information classified as Top Secret and Secret are put into the vaults and storage servers of the National Security Agency (NSA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for ten, twenty or more years - some being sealed permanently. President Obama has issued a directive that effectively rewrites the classification rules. It will certainly decrease the amount of time before information becomes public.
This was not something the President simply decided to do, it was one of his election campaign pledges; open up government expressing that Washington had become too secretive. President Obama's National Security team including General James Jones and William H. Leary were key authors in how the new classification system will work. The executive order creates new requirements for intelligence agencies wanting to classify sensitive information or seal information from public dissemination. The White House blog describes the new classification rules:
• It establishes a National Declassification Center at the National Archives to enable agency reviewers to perform collaborative declassification in accordance with priorities developed by the Archivist with input from the general public.
• For the first time, it establishes the principle that no records may remain classified indefinitely and provides enforceable deadlines for declassifying information exempted from automatic declassification at 25 years.
• For the first time, it requires agencies to conduct fundamental classification guidance reviews to ensure that classification guides are up-to-date and that they do not require unnecessary classification.
• It eliminates an intelligence community veto of certain decisions by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel that was introduced in the Bush order.
This new set of requirements is probably the most significant overhaul in how management of information is contained, used and archived since the inception of the intelligence apparatus in U.S. history. The directive is also very broad in scope as it affects every agency of the U.S. government. Documents in the Department's of Treasury, Agriculture, and Interior will be required to follow these new requirements along 19 other department directors and agencies.
Accessing the information will also become easier. In ordering the reclassification of documents, President Obama has also requested new technology be an important part in how information is disclosed and available to the public.