Are mechanisms for accessing information from the defence sector effective?
30a. Legal framework
United States score: 75/100
There is no legislation or implementing guidelines that clearly stipulate access to information for the defence sector.
There is legislation and implementing guidelines that clearly stipulate access to information for the defence sector, but it may not contain all the elements listed in score 4.
There is legislation and implementing guidelines that clearly stipulate: 1) how the public can access defence information; 2) what information is and is not available 3) how classified information is categorised 4) how the public can appeal those decisions 5) that there is an active, accessible, independent, external appeal or review body to review access to information decisions.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) states that any person has the right to request access to federal agency information, however, there are nine exemptions, which include classified information for national defence or foreign policy . The FOIA also includes the right to request access to classified records under the Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) .
The DOD FOIA Handbook details how to file a FOIA request and how to appeal a denial of a request. The handbook follows DoD Directive 5400.07 . Each service has its own Requester Service Centre which responds to FOIA requests for their own records .
The classification system is regulated by executive orders, which are updated periodically by the sitting president. The current classification system (as of early 2021, is regulated by Executive Order 13526, which was signed by President Obama . The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) is the oversight body for the Government security classification system . In particular, this body is responsible for overseeing Executive Order 13526 on National Security Information . It provides information on the different levels of classification . The ‘Mandatory Declassification Review’ (MDR) is the mechanism through which an individual can request declassification and the release of classified information, and the request for MDR can be submitted via the ISOO .
There is no information available on how these decisions are reviewed internally by the DoD Requester Service Centres.
 FOIA.gov. ‘Freedom of Information Act Statute’. Accessed at: https://www.foia.gov/foia-statute.html
 Department of Defense Open Government. ‘Declassification’. Accessed at: https://open.defense.gov/Transparency/Declassification/
 Department of Defense. 5 April 2019. ‘DoD Directive 5400.07: DoD Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Program’. Accessed at: https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodd/540007p.pdf
 Department of Defense. 15 September 2016. ‘DoD Open Government Plan Version 4.0’. Accessed at: https://open.defense.gov/portals/23/Documents/DoD_Open_Government_Plan_v4.0_September_15_2016.pdf
 Savage, C. The New York Times. 15 May 2017. ‘How Government Secrets Are Declassified and Disclosed’. Accessed at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/15/us/politics/trump-classified-secrets.html
 Information Security Oversight Office. Accessed at: https://www.archives.gov/isoo
 Federal Register, Vol. 75, No. 2. 5 January 2010. ‘Presidential Documents: Executive Order 13526 of December 29, 2009’. Accessed at: https://www.archives.gov/files/isoo/pdf/cnsi-eo.pdf
 Information Security Oversight Office. ‘What is Classified National Security Information?’. Accessed at: https://www.archives.gov/isoo/faqs#what-is-cnss
 Information Security Oversight Office. ‘Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR)’. Accessed at: https://www.archives.gov/isoo/training/mdr
30b. Classification of information
United States score: NS/100
There is no legal framework for the classification of information to ensure adequate data protection.
This indicator is not scored.
This indicator is not scored.
This indicator is not scored.
This indicator is not scored.
This indicator is not assigned a score in the GDI. Executive Order 13526 sets out the classification standards that are followed by all government agencies . This is incorporated by the DoD through DoD Manual 5200.01 on Classification and Declassification, which provides guidelines on designation of classification and dissemnation of information . The manual is publicly available.
The 2017 ISOO annual report stated that the national security classification system is unsustainable, with an excess of classification, which impedes the proper sharing of information, and too little declassification, which undermines the trust of the public . The 2019 annual report outlined that the the government’s ability to protect and share classified national security information presents serious challenges to national security . The reports, alongside the 2018 report , detail concerns that the government does not invest in the necessary technology to support information mangement and security. The Public Interest Declassification Board claimed that there is bipartisan recognition that the Government classifies too much information and keeps it classified for too long . Overclassification has been recognised as a critical issue facing the DoD, and concerns about classification increased during the Trump administration [7,8,9].
In 2019, Congress required the DoD to prepare a report on how it will meet its obligations to declassify a backlog of classified records .
 Federal Register, Vol 75, No. 2. 5 January 2010. ‘Presidential Documents: Executive Order 13526 of December 29, 2009’. Accessed at: https://www.archives.gov/files/isoo/pdf/cnsi-eo.pdf
 Homeland Security Digital Library. 24 February 2012. ‘Department of Defense Manual 5200.01, Volume 1: DoD Information Security Program: Overview, Classification, and Declassification’. Accessed at: https://www.hsdl.org/?abstract&did=701249
 National Archives and Records Administration. ‘Information Security Oversight Office, 2017 Report to the President’. Accessed at: https://www.archives.gov/files/isoo/reports/2017-annual-report.pdf
 National Archives and Records Administration. ‘Information Security Oversight Office, 2019 Report to the President’. Accessed at: https://www.archives.gov/files/isoo/reports/2019-isoo-annual-report.pdf
 National Archives and Records Administration. ‘Information Security Oversight Office, 2018 Report to the President’. Accessed at: https://www.archives.gov/files/isoo/images/2018-isoo-annual-report.pdf
 Aftergood, S., Federation of American Scientists. 1 June 2020. ‘PIDB Urges Modernisation of Classification System’. Accessed at: https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2020/06/pidb-vision/
 Mehta, A., DefenseNews. 29 January 2020. ”Unbelievably ridiculous’: Four-star general seeks to clean up Pentagon’s classification process’. Accessed at: https://www.defensenews.com/pentagon/2020/01/29/unbelievably-ridiculous-four-star-general-seeks-to-clean-up-pentagons-classification-process/
 Paladino, J., Project on Government Oversight. 5 December 2019. ‘The Pentagon’s War on Transparency’. Accessed at: https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2019/12/the-pentagon-war-on-transparency/
 Giglio, M., The Atlantic. 3 October 2019. ‘The US Government Keeps Too Many Secrets’. Accessed at: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/10/us-government-has-secrecy-problem/599380/x/
 Aftergood, S.Federation of American Scientists. 11 December 2019. ‘Pentagon Must Produce Plan for Declassification’. Accessed at: https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/2019/12/dod-declass/
United States score: 75/100
The public is rarely able to access information from the defence sector, if at all.
The public is able to access information, but there may be delays in access or key information missing.
The public is able to access information regularly, within a reasonable timeline, and in detail.
The DoD FOIA Handbook states that an initial determination to release or deny a request should be made within 20 working days of receiving the request . According to the DoD FOIA Officer Report in 2019, the DoD received 54,000 requests and 89% of those requests were processed in under 100 days . In 2020, 50,006 requests were received by the DoD, of which 12,429 were granted in full and 16,980 were partially granted/partially denied; meaning 58.8% of FOIA requests were fully or totally granted . As noted in 30A, there are nine exemptions under which a FOIA request can be rejected, which are designed to protect sensitive information while keeping large portions available to the public on request. There is strong evidence, however, that one of these exemptions is used with high frequency and at times, for example, during the investigation into presidential involvement in Ukraine in 2019, it is misused for political gain .
According to Steven Aftergood, Director of the Government Secrecy Project, the classification system has not changed but the application of those rules has changed, largely to restrict categories of information that had been previously been publicly available . For example, in August 2017, President Trump announced that the DoD would no longer publish the number of troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, a figure that was previously published every quarter [6,7].
 Department of Defense Open Government. ‘How long will it take for my request to be processed?’. Accessed at: https://open.defense.gov/Transparency/FOIA/FOIA-Handbook/#long
 Department of Defense. ‘Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2018’. Accessed at: https://open.defense.gov/Portals/23/Documents/FOIA/Annual_Report/DoDFY2018AnnualFOIA_Report.pdf
 Department of Defense. ‘Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2020’. Accessed at: https://open.defense.gov/Portals/23/Documents/DoDFY2020AnnualFOIA_Report.pdf
 Schwellenbach, N. & Moulton, S., Project on Governnment Oversight. 6 February 2020. ‘The ‘Most Abused’ Freedom of Information Act Exemption Still Needs to Be Reined In’. Accessed at: https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/02/the-most-abused-foia-exemption-still-needs-to-be-reined-in/
 Interview with Steven Aftergood, Director, Government Secrecy Project, Federation of American Scientists, 4 March 2020.
 Welna, D., NPR. 3 July 2018. ‘Pentagon Questioned Over Blackout On War Zone Troop Numbers’. Accessed at: https://www.npr.org/2018/07/03/625544265/pentagon-questioned-over-war-zone-numbers-blackout?t=1610486801646&t=1616090359314
 Papachristidis, H., Strife. 10 March 2021. ‘Trump’s Pentagon: An Opaque Legacy’. Accessed at: https://www.strifeblog.org/2021/03/10/trumps-pentagon-an-opaque-legacy/
Compare scores by country
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|Country||30a. Legal framework||30b. Classification of information||30c. Effectiveness|
|Albania||100 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Algeria||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Angola||50 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Argentina||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Armenia||25 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Australia||100 / 100||NS||25 / 100|
|Azerbaijan||25 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Bahrain||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Bangladesh||0 / 100||NS||NEI|
|Belgium||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Botswana||25 / 100||NS||25 / 100|
|Brazil||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Burkina Faso||25 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Cameroon||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Canada||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Chile||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|China||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Colombia||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Cote d'Ivoire||50 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Denmark||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Egypt||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Estonia||75 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Finland||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|France||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Germany||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Ghana||25 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Greece||25 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Hungary||50 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|India||75 / 100||NS||75 / 100|
|Indonesia||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Iran||50 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Iraq||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Israel||75 / 100||NS||25 / 100|
|Italy||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Japan||75 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Jordan||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Kenya||50 / 100||NS||25 / 100|
|Kosovo||25 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Kuwait||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Latvia||100 / 100||NS||75 / 100|
|Lebanon||50 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Lithuania||75 / 100||NS||75 / 100|
|Malaysia||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Mali||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Mexico||50 / 100||NS||25 / 100|
|Montenegro||50 / 100||NS||25 / 100|
|Morocco||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Myanmar||25 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Netherlands||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|New Zealand||75 / 100||NS||75 / 100|
|Niger||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Nigeria||25 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|North Macedonia||100 / 100||NS||75 / 100|
|Norway||100 / 100||NS||100 / 100|
|Oman||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Palestine||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Philippines||75 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Poland||100 / 100||NS||75 / 100|
|Portugal||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Qatar||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Russia||50 / 100||NS||25 / 100|
|Saudi Arabia||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Serbia||25 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Singapore||0 / 100||NS||NA|
|South Africa||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|South Korea||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|South Sudan||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Spain||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Sudan||25 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Sweden||75 / 100||NS||100 / 100|
|Switzerland||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Taiwan||100 / 100||NS||75 / 100|
|Tanzania||25 / 100||NS||25 / 100|
|Thailand||50 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Tunisia||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Turkey||25 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Uganda||100 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|Ukraine||50 / 100||NS||50 / 100|
|United Arab Emirates||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|United Kingdom||100 / 100||NS||75 / 100|
|United States||75 / 100||NS||75 / 100|
|Venezuela||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|
|Zimbabwe||0 / 100||NS||0 / 100|