It wasn't clear when Obama signed Executive Order 13526 early in his presidency what "extraordinary cases" government agencies could propose to exempt documents from automatic declassification after 50 years. Well, turns out, dozens of agencies qualified, mostly the obvious ones, but also the U.S. Mint.

Last week, the Information Security Oversight Office updated their list of government agencies with classified material that is eligible for exceptions—all of which had to pass through something called the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) to fully vet whether they merited staying secret for another 25-year interval. ISCAP was persuaded that pretty much every intelligence agency, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy, FEMA, the U.S. Mint, NASA, and the FBI all have old material whose declassification "would clearly and demonstrably cause damage to national security."

As Steven Aftergood, an electrical engineer by training who directs the Federation of American Scientist's Project on Government Secrecy, put it, "It appeared that the extraordinary had become quite ordinary."

Aftergood also pressed the director of the Information Security Oversight Office, John P. Fitzpatrick, into justifying some of the more baffling cases:

Why does the U.S. Mint need an exemption from declassification for 75 year old information? Is it some sort of anti-counterfeiting issue? No, he said, that's not it.

The U.S. Mint declassification exemption, "which is perhaps the most [narrowly] targeted of all ISCAP-approved exemptions," applies solely to "security specifications from the U.S. Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, which was built in the late 1930s," Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

"Think 'Goldfinger'," he said.


In all seriousness, it does sound like John Fitzpatrick just admitted that Fort Knox has measures to protect itself from nuclear devices and razor-sharp bowler caps: a very irresponsible thing to just decide to declassify in the middle of an interview.

For shame, Information Security Oversight Office Director John Fitzpatrick. For shame.

[photo via Blake Handley, with minor changes; h/t Steven Aftergood]

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