Cover: Secrecy in U.S. National Security

Secrecy in U.S. National Security

Why a Paradigm Shift Is Needed

Published Nov 1, 2018

by James B. Bruce, Sina Beaghley, W. George Jameson


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This Perspective summarizes the authors' key findings and conclusions regarding the adequacy of the present system governing secrecy in U.S. national security information. Based on a novel approach and expert opinion, including our own direct experience with the issues, the goal of the study is to make recommendations to improve the system that makes, safeguards, and discloses secrets. The authors examine the principal elements and processes of the secrecy paradigm. The way these elements and processes perform and interact with each other determines the paradigm's overall performance. A key conclusion is that efforts to appreciably improve the way secrets are classified, protected, and disclosed will not likely succeed without corresponding improvements in the structure, culture, rules, and technologies of the secrecy paradigm. The strong relationship between the processes and the elements of secrecy means that major shortfalls in one almost certainly ensure continued shortfalls in the other. To achieve meaningful improvements in secrecy reform, tinkering at the margins must yield to systemic changes. A much-improved system will afford significantly better protection to secrets that truly need it; reduce complexity, subjectivity, and overclassification by providing clear parameters for creating secrets; and more fully support government transparency goals.

This research was conducted by the Cyber and Intelligence Policy Center within the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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