The Rising Cost of Secrecy

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The Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy is no secret (Cheney’s office refuses even to provide figures on how much information it classifies), so it should come as little surprise that the government is now spending more than ever to shield information from public view. Still, the numbers just in from the Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees the government’s national security classification system and recommends policy to the president, are staggering. During fiscal year 2005 the government spent $7.7 billion on classification, up from $2.7 billion in 1995 and “a 5.8 percent increase above the cost estimates reported for FY 2004,” according to the ISOO report. Add to that the $1.5 billion that private industry spends on classification and the total amount rises to $9.2 billion.

Beyond the fact that classifying information is enormously expensive — in 2004 taxpayers spent $460 each time a classification decision was made — there is evidence that some information is being classified needlessly. A 2005 report from the watchdog group Open The Government found that “at least 50 types of designations” are being used “to restrict unclassified information deemed ‘sensitive but unclassified.’ Many of these numerous terms are duplicative, vague, and endanger the protection of necessary secrets by allowing excessive secrecy to prevail in our open society.” As the Federation of American Scientists’ Steven Aftergood points out over at Secrecy News, “If the classification system were functioning properly to enhance national security, these billions of dollars might all be money well spent. But there is abundant reason to doubt that such is the case.”

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