Pentagon updates decades-old classification policy for space programs

The new policies address issues around overuse of special access program designations, according to Assistant Secretary for Space Policy John Plumb.
(Getty Images)

The Defense Department has revised its classification policy on space programs in an effort to lower barriers for access and improve how the Pentagon collaborates with allies, industry partners and other stakeholders.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks signed off on the new policy memo in December, according to Assistant Secretary for Space Policy John Plumb. He said the updated policy addresses some of his concerns about over-classification and how it impairs the department’s ability to effectively conduct business and carry out missions.

“What the classification memo does generally is, it overwrites — it really completely rewrites — a legacy document [that] had its roots 20 years ago and it’s just no longer applicable to the current environment that involves national security space,” Plumb told reporters Wednesday.

Although he declined to go into detail about the new policies — which are classified — Plumb did say that the memo does address issues around special access programs (SAP). The security protocol is given to highly classified programs and largely restricts who can access them, making it difficult to share information between key stakeholders.


Now, the Pentagon plans to apply “minimum classifications” to different programs that will allow the services to evaluate whether or not those programs should be considered a SAP, Plumb explained.

“Anything we can bring from a SAP level to a top-secret level, for example, [brings] massive value to the warfighter, massive value to the department,” he said. “Frankly, my hope is over time, it’ll also allow us to share more information with allies and partners that we might not currently be able to share that information with at the SAP level.”

As the space domain becomes more important for the U.S. military and its international partners, Plumb and others across the Defense Department have advocated against over-classification of space-related programs and pushed for continuous reviews of classification policies.

He emphasized that while some officials are looking forward to implementing the new policies, it still may take time for them to be fully embraced within the Pentagon.

“Inside the Beltway, people always ask me about, how can I make things unclassified? And that is not actually a thing I’m all that concerned about,” Plumb said. “I’m concerned about reducing the classification of things where they are over-classified to the point that it hampers our ability to get work done or hamper the ability of the warfighter to do their mission.”

Mikayla Easley

Written by Mikayla Easley

Mikayla Easley reports on the Pentagon’s acquisition and use of emerging technologies. Prior to joining DefenseScoop, she covered national security and the defense industry for National Defense Magazine. She received a BA in Russian language and literature from the University of Michigan and a MA in journalism from the University of Missouri. You can follow her on Twitter @MikaylaEasley

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