How petabytes are crushing the security classification system

The official in charge of overseeing the federal government's information classification policy is warning that the current system is beginning to break – and he wants help and money to fix it.

secure file (Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock.com)
 

The official in charge of overseeing the federal government's information classification policy is warning that the current system is beginning to break – and he wants help and money to fix it.

Mark Bradley, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office, wrote in his report to the president covering classified national security information and controlled unclassified information for fiscal year 2018 that the current system "creates electronic petabytes of classified and controlled unclassified data each month, a deluge that we expect will continue to grow unabated." That report was publicly released today.

The amount of classified information being produced, Bradley said, will create a massive backlog when that information is set to be reviewed for declassification. Compounding the problem is that declassification policy as articulated in Executive Order 13526 was designed for a paper-based world and has been overtaken by transformations in technology.

"It can't do what it was designed to do," Bradley said of the 2009 executive order in an interview in his office at the National Archives in downtown Washington, D.C. "It wasn't built to run on this kind of road."

"The stakes are extraordinarily large," he said. "It's critical that the information that's being classified be thought of in two ways: one that the information needs to be protected; second it ultimately needs to be declassified because we're a democracy and we need to be able to inform our people of what we're doing."

Bradley, a former CIA agent, acknowledged that with national security threats blinking red every day, it's "difficult to get this on the radar screen in terms of priority" for the intelligence chiefs, legislative committee leaders and National Security Council policymakers who will be needed to build support for an all-of-government effort to modernize both classification policy and the technology that supports it.

Even with buy-in from all the stakeholders, Bradley wrote in his report, "I believe this transformation will take years to implement fully."

To try to generate support, Bradley streamlined his annual report to focus on problem areas and possible solutions. The report notes that the same technology that appears to be creating a future backlog for the declassification system can be brought to bear on the declassification process. For instance, the same artificial intelligence and predictive analytics capabilities that are utilized in agency programs could be used to help automate and accelerate the classification and declassification process.

"In meeting with agencies and the private sector, ISOO learned that these technologies remain untapped in this area even as they are deployed for core missions and operations," the report states.

One big risk of doing nothing is that eventually the architects, programmers and administrators of the cloud-based computer systems being adopted by the intelligence community could effectively take over the role of making policy for classified information governance.

"We're in danger of losing control of the system -- meaning 'us' the government -- if we don't step forward," Bradley said. "You'll have a much more decentralized, catch-as-catch-can system. You don't want that. You don't want people having oversight over themselves."

Bradley wants a plan to upgrade the tools of classification and declassification to be added to the Trump Administration's IT modernization plan. What he has in mind is something along the lines of a shared service that corrals the massive troves of data being produced by the CIA with its state-of-the-art cloud computing system, but doesn't leave behind agencies that aren't first and foremost in the business of producing and consuming classified information.

"We're trying to design a system not just for CIA but also for Commerce, also for Treasury, also for the agencies that deal with classified information but don't do it every day or every second like the IC does," Bradley said. "That's one of the great challenges: not to let these other agencies get so far behind."

NEXT STORY: Navy elevates CIO role

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.