"Top Secret" shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.My experience from forty some years ago is that what was TOP SECRET in the morning may be unclassified by the evening. On the other hand, some things are held as TOP SECRET for a very long time.
The Obama Administration becomes the latest to make an effort to cut through the mountain of previously classified information that should be declassified and released to the general public, to include release to interested researchers in the areas of history and political science (and given the age of some of this, maybe even archeology).
The President issued, as of 29 December 2009, two Executive Orders with regard to Classified National Security Information.
There is the "Executive Order - Classified National Security Information". This is the big picture EO.
And here is the Executive Order - Original Classification Authority, which states who has "original authority" to classify something. For example, the Secretary of the Treasury can classify something as TOP SECRET.♠ The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency may only classify information up to SECRET (which is lower than TOP SECRET).♥
The President also issued a Memorandum giving some direction regarding how to get ahead of this backlog of material that should have been declassified by now.
Under the direction of the National Declassification Center (NDC), and utilizing recommendations of an ongoing Business Process Review in support of the NDC, referrals and quality assurance problems within a backlog of more than 400 million pages of accessioned Federal records previously subject to automatic declassification shall be addressed in a manner that will permit public access to all declassified records from this backlog no later than December 31, 2013.This Memorandum, "Presidential Memorandum - Implementation of the Executive Order, 'Classified National Security Information'", can be found here.
While it took a long time for the Administration to get these directives out, they are now heading in the proper direction. And, 31 December 2013 isn't far off and 400 million pages is a lot to review and release. At two minutes a page, that is 13 million hours of reading, or 1.6 million man-days, more if you allow for breaks.
Regards — Cliff
♠ For instance, his Income Tax Returns.
♥ On the other hand, avoiding a FOIA Request works just as well. For example, all those FOIA requests with regard to Climate Change data to NASA or the British CRU.