Homeland Security

DHS works to get classification tools in line

Image of Classified Key

The Department of Homeland Security plans to deploy an electronic document classification management tool on its top secret and secret networks that would bring the department in line with sensitive document classification tools on other federal intelligence networks.

DHS’s new classification management tool (CMT) is described in an inspector general’s report on the department’s efforts to reduce over-classification of national security information. The report, issued in July, gave DHS high marks for its current methods of electronically designating intelligence documents as sensitive, secret or top secret.

CMTs typically generate electronic markings, header or footer banners, and classification authority to block original and derivative sensitive information, according to the IG.

The protection of derivative information, which originates at other agencies, is particularly important for DHS because the majority of its sensitive intelligence documents come from somewhere else. DHS remains, however, a “vast consumer” of that information, the IG said.

For the report, which is a result of reviews mandated by the Reducing Over-Classification Act of 2010, the IG evaluated document classification policies, procedures, rules and regulations at DHS’s 13 component agencies. The auditors concluded that the department’s chief security officer had “created and implemented policies and procedures that have established a firm foundation” at DHS.

However, they also concluded that the department’s CMTs were outdated and had produced classification errors that could block content from being shared with appropriate agencies or allow handling by employees who lacked the proper clearance. Of the 372 documents the IG’s office reviewed, 59 had some kind of declassification, sourcing or marking error. Some designations that declassify documents after a certain amount of time -- say, 50 years -- were not uniform or recognizable across the department’s CMTs, the IG report states.

It recommends that DHS use a CMT developed by the intelligence community to bring it in line with other agencies’ electronic document management tools. DHS officials say they are testing that CMT across all component agencies that access C-LAN, the department’s IT network for top secret/sensitive compartmented information. It ensures that the department’s intelligence missions are conducted without compromising sensitive national security information.

The CMT pilot program, according to DHS, is currently used by only a few select employees at nine of its component agencies. It provides all appropriate exemptions, allows for declassification dates and lets users change the classification of email messages to reflect new levels of secrecy. It also prompts users to mark portions of documents for classification.

DHS’s management office told the IG the CMT pilot test is being finalized and that it has funded a request to create an agreement with an unnamed intelligence agency for the tool. Officials said that agreement would be completed this summer. Once the agreement is in place, the DHS CIO will deploy the CMT to the agency’s top secret and secret networks, with an estimated completion date of Feb. 28, 2014.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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