The US Classification System w/Snowden Update

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posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 10:09 AM
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The US classification system

Top Level Telecommunications often involve information that has to be kept secret. To ensure that, governments have systems to protect sensitive information by classifying it, which is best known from document markings like "Top Secret".

Here we'll explain the classification system of the United States, which is far more complex than most people think, also because it's one of the world's biggest secrecy systems. In 2012 almost 5 million (!) people in the US had a clearance for access to classified information.*

The deeper parts of this classification system are classified, but some new details and codewords have been revealed in documents from the recent Snowden-leaks.

Cover sheets voor Confidential, Secret and Top Secret information


Classification markings

All documents that contain classified information, whether digital or hard copy, have to be marked with the appropriate markings. These are shown in the classification or banner line, which is shown at the top and bottom of every document and usually has three parts, separated by double slashes:

Classification level // SCI or SAP compartment // Dissemination marking

An example of such a classification line would be:

TOP SECRET//COMINT//NOFORN




posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 10:10 AM
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Additionally, all sections of a document should have a portion marking, which is an abbreviation of the full classification line. Below, the abbreviations for these portion markings are shown in brackets.

When a document contains joint or Foreign Government Information (FGI), the necessary markings are shown in a separate part of the classification line. These markings will not be discussed here.

The meaning of abbreviations and codewords can be found in the separate listing of Abbreviations and Acronyms and the listing of Nicknames and Codewords.


Classification levels

The United States government classifies information according to the degree which the unauthorized disclosure would damage national security. Like many other countries, the US has three classifications levels. From the highest to the lowest level these are:

- TOP SECRET (TS)
- SECRET (S)
- CONFIDENTIAL (C)

Government documents that do not have a classification can be marked as:
- UNCLASSIFIED (U)


With 1.4 million people having a Top Secret clearance, it's more than clear that additional measures are needed to protect the more sensitive information. Therefore, that information is put in separated compartments, only accessible for those people who have the 'need-to-know'. This is called Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) for intelligence information, while other highly secret and sensitive information is protected by a Special Access Program (SAP). Both sub-systems will be explained below.


SCI compartments

Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) is a system to protect national intelligence information concerning sources and methods, and is divided into control systems and compartments, which are further subdivided in subcontrol systems and subcompartments. These systems and compartments are usually identified by a classified codeword, some of which have been declassified. In total, there may be between 100 and 300 SCI compartments and subcompartments, grouped into about a dozen control systems.
Cover sheet for Top Secret Special Intelligence and TALENT KEYHOLE information
Known and supposed SCI control systems are:
- COMINT or Special Intelligence (SI)
- TALENT KEYHOLE (TK)
- HUMINT Control System (HCS)
- KLONDIKE (KDK)
- RESERVE (RSV)
- BYEMAN (BYE or B, defunct since 2005)
- VERDANT (VER)
- PANGRAM (PM)
- MEDITATE (M)
- SPECTRE (?)
- LOMA (?)
- Special Navy Control Program (SNCP)
- STELLARWIND (STLW)
- an undisclosed codeword has the abbreviation OC

In a classification line this is shown like: TOP SECRET//SI

Multiple control systems are shown like: TOP SECRET//SI/TK



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 10:11 AM
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COMINT (SI)
This control system is for communications intercepts or Signals Intelligence and contains various sub-control systems and compartments, which are identified by an abbreviation or a codeword. In a classification line they follow COMINT or SI, connected by a hyphen.

Known COMINT sub-control systems are:
- Very Restricted Knowledge (VRK)
- Exceptionally Controlled Information (ECI)
- GAMMA (G)
- DELTA (D, now defunct)

In a classification line this is shown like: TOP SECRET//SI-ECI


Exceptionally Controlled Information (ECI)
This sub-control system of SI contains compartments, which are identified by a classified codeword. In the classification line there's a three-letter abbreviation of this codeword.

Recently disclosed codewords for ECI compartments are:
- AMBULANT (AMB), APERIODIC, AUNTIE, PAINTEDEAGLE, PAWLEYS, PENDLETON, PIEDMONT, PICARESQUE (PIQ) and PITCHFORD. There's also an undisclosed codeword which has the abbreviation RGT.

In a classification line this is shown like: TOP SECRET//SI-ECI PIQ

Multiple compartments are shown like: TOP SECRET//SI-ECI PIQ-ECI AMB


GAMMA (G)
This sub-control system of SI is for highly sensitive communication intercepts and contains compartments, which are identified by an identifier of four alphanumercial characters. In the past this were four-letter codewords, but it's not clear whether this practice is still used today.

Some former GAMMA compartments were:
- GABE, GANT, GILT, GOAT, GUPY, GYRO and GOUT

In a classification line this is shown like: TOP SECRET//SI-G GUPY


TALENT KEYHOLE (TK)
This control system is for products of overhead collection systems, such as satellites and reconnaissance aircraft, and contains compartments, which are identified by a classified codeword.

Some former TK subcompartments were:
- CHESS, RUFF and ZARF

In a classification line this is shown like: TOP SECRET//TK-ZARF



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 10:12 AM
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SAP compartments

Special Access Programs (SAP) are created to control access, distribution, and protection of particularly sensitive information. Each SAP is identified by a nickname which consists of two unassociated, unclassified words or a single classified codeword. Such an identifier is abbreviated in a two or three-character designator.

There are apparently over 100 SAPs, with many having numerous compartments and sub-compartments. The classification line for SAP information shows the words SPECIAL ACCESS REQUIRED (SAR), followed by the program nickname or codeword. Examples of program nicknames are BUTTER POPCORN, MEDIAN BELL, SENIOR ICE and SODA.

In a classification line this is shown like: TOP SECRET//SAR-MEDIAN BELL

Multiple SAP's are shown like: TOP SECRET//SAR-MB/SAR-SD


SAP sub-compartments
Subcompartments of SAPs are separated by spaces and they are listed in ascending alphabetic and numeric order. The classification markings do not show the hierarchy beyond the sub-compartment level. Sub-sub-compartments are listed in the same manner as sub-compartments.

In a classification line this is shown like: TOP SECRET//SAR-MB A691 D722


Dissemination markings

Dissemination markings or caveats are used to restrict the dissemination of information within only those people who have the appropriate clearance level and the need to know the information. Dissemination markings can also be used to control information which is unclassified. Some markings are used by multiple agencies, others are restricted to use by one agency.

Markings used by multiple agencies:
- FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY (FOUO)
- SENSITIVE INFORMATION (SINFO)

Intelligence community markings:
- ORCON (OC)
- IMCON (IMC)
- SOURCES AND METHODS INFORMATION (SAMI)
- NOFORN (NF)
- PROPIN (PR)
- REL TO [country trigraph]
- RELIDO
- FISA

National Security Agency (NSA) markings:
- [country trigraph] EYES ONLY

National Geospatial intelligence Agency (NGA) markings:
- LIMDIS (DS)
- one undisclosed marking

Department of Defense (DoD) markings:
- NC2-ESI
- SPECAT (SC)

State Department (DoS) markings:
- EXDIS (XD)
- NODIS (ND)
- SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED (SBU)
- SBU NOFORN

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) markings:
- DEA SENSITIVE (DSEN)

Nuclear weapons related markings:
- RESTRICTED DATA (RD)
- FORMERLY RESTRICTED DATA (FRD)
- DOD UNCLASSIFIED CONTROLLED NUCLEAR INFORMATION (DCNI)
- DOE UNCLASSIFIED CONTROLLED NUCLEAR INFORMATION (UCNI)

In a classification line this is shown like: SECRET//SI//ORCON

Multiple markings are shown like: SECRET//SI//ORCON/NOFORN



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 10:13 AM
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Nuclear weapons related markings
The markings Restricted Data (RD) and Former Restricted Data (FRD) are used by the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy for information about design and operation of nuclear warheads. Both can have the following two additional sub-markings:

- CRITICAL NUCLEAR WEAPON DESIGN INFORMATION (CNWDI)
- SIGMA (SG, followed by a number between 1 and 99)

In a classification line this is shown like: SECRET//RD-CNWDI

Multiple SIGMA markings are shown like: SECRET//RD-SIGMA 2-SIGMA 4


National Security Agency (NSA) markings
The Intelligence Community classification manual from 2009 lists four undisclosed dissemination markings which are used by the NSA. Maybe these are the same, or similar to a new kind of markings which were unveiled by the Snowden-leaks in 2013, but were already used in 2010. These markings are used to identify a COI, which apparently stands for Community Of Interest. COI identifiers are shown at the very end of a classification line.

Recently disclosed COI identifiers are:
- BULLRUN
- ENDUE
- NOCON (this could be an abbreviation of No Contractors)

In a classification line this is shown like: TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN/BULLRUN


In order to prevent codewords being assigned twice, the Controlled Access Program Coordination Office (CAPCO) lists all codenames and authorized abbreviations of Sensitive Compartmented Information and Special Access Programs in the Authorized Classification and Control Markings Register.



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 10:14 AM
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I never knew just how far ABOVE TOP SECRET things could be. Who knew?



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 12:20 PM
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When I was working in the shipyard, I was waiting in the personnel office. While I was waiting, I started looking over some of the job listings. I remember laughing at one of them that required a "cosmic top secret" clearance. I figured whoever got that job would be let in on the secrets of the universe.



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 12:26 PM
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reply to post by VictorVonDoom
 


The reason I posted this is this is actually the reason I first found this site a little more than 7 years ago and a little more than 5 years ago became a member. I was just trying to see if there were classifications above top secret. I found yankee white and a few other things, but nothing as detailed and as comprehensive as this. If I never looked for the answer to this question, I would never have became a meber of this site.

I am thankful that I did. I love this site.



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 01:24 PM
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reply to post by devildogUSMC
 


Nice post, would like to add you will never see a document above unclassified by itself. They will always have a cover sheet with big bold red letters that tell that it is secret or whatever. They will also be in a folder or envelope. All documents are collected daily at given times and burned, which is the only approved way to dispose of classified documents.

The Bot



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 01:59 PM
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reply to post by dlbott
 


Very interesting stuff. I wonder if some of these classifications are unattainable by the president or congress.



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 04:19 PM
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devildogUSMC
Very interesting stuff. I wonder if some of these classifications are unattainable by the president or congress.


In most cases a security clearance is obtained through need to know.

Some members of congress don't get briefings on certain things because they don't need to know. More specifically, a member of a transportation subcommittee has no need to know about a classified briefing to an intelligence subcommittee unless they too are a member of that subcommittee.

The president is the commander in chief, he has a need to know on everything. I suppose you could speculate and go the Independence Day route on 'plausible deniability' but let's stick to reality for now.



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 04:44 PM
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reply to post by links234
 


So what about when something comes up for a vote in the house or senate where everyone votes? Everyone doesn't have all of the same classified information to base their vote on?
edit on 19-9-2013 by devildogUSMC because: (no reason given)



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 05:12 PM
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S&F! I never realized it was so in depth! O_O This totally blew my mind.

Makes me think, there are U.S. Naval procedures for when a ship is sinking where some crew members are supposed to destroy "Confidential" material before evacuating so it cannot be recovered by foreign salvage ships. This can be a LONG process, as it includes burning VERY thick manuals, as well as literally smashing gauges on machinery to hide the "red line" values. Basically, if you do this you die. If you don't do it and someone finds out, you go to prison.

So, if "Confidential" information (one of the lowest classifications) is considered more important than the lives of the crew, where does the importance of human life fall compared to these higher classifications?

My guess is, these higher classifications are considered far more important than the lives of just about anyone on the planet.
edit on 19-9-2013 by AlliumIslelily because: wording



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 05:15 PM
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reply to post by AlliumIslelily
 


I know, I was overwhelmed as well. How much must they be hiding and keeping secret to require a system like that?



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 05:17 PM
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links234

devildogUSMC
Very interesting stuff. I wonder if some of these classifications are unattainable by the president or congress.


In most cases a security clearance is obtained through need to know.

Some members of congress don't get briefings on certain things because they don't need to know. More specifically, a member of a transportation subcommittee has no need to know about a classified briefing to an intelligence subcommittee unless they too are a member of that subcommittee.

The president is the commander in chief, he has a need to know on everything. I suppose you could speculate and go the Independence Day route on 'plausible deniability' but let's stick to reality for now.


This is correct. I was the primary OPR for several special access programs that had a very limited numbers of people who would have access based upon their positions. Every person would have be briefed into the program and debriefed out with some exceptions such as the President who was not on the access list but, along with a few others would have automatic access to everything without jumping through hoops. These were very controled documents that required everyone that handle them to sign and date accept when you got to the very top levels of the Gov. This could cause problems on occasion if for example the CJCS decided to hold on to document and you were hit with an audit. It was kind of crazy because even the classification were classified and things like the combo to the safes that held them would have to be treated as highly compartmented classified documents.



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 05:31 PM
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reply to post by MrSpad
 


When you refer to "top level" personnel, who would that be specifically?



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 05:52 PM
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reply to post by devildogUSMC
 


I would imagine that a number of subcommittee briefings are for oversight purposes. If there's a need for votes then some limited amount of information is released for a larger classified briefing or scrubbed clean for an 'open' debate.

This happened recently with relation to the Syria debate.



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 06:42 PM
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So there has to be so many different groups within so many agencies with so many secrets that nobody knows about, it has to be unimaginable.



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 09:37 PM
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reply to post by devildogUSMC
 


It's pretty huge. If you're interested, there's been a number of articles and a book written about it:
Top Secret America: Washington Post Project
NPR interview with co-author of the Washington Post project
PBS Frontline episode on 'Top Secret America'



posted on Sep, 19 2013 @ 09:58 PM
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devildogUSMC
reply to post by MrSpad
 


When you refer to "top level" personnel, who would that be specifically?


I was non spefic for a reason but, people such as the President, CJCS, Sec Def, and the directors of some of the intelligence agencys for many. It would also depend on whos program it was. If it was CIA then people like the DIrector would of couse have acces without being in a slot. The NSA director in general has access to all programs because they are transmited over his systems although he would still have a need to know to justify reading them. It can get kind of confusing. In particular with all the cross agency stuff. And members of certain programs could be expanded for short time if something in the program became active. So for example if your program was say, tracking WMDs in Syria that special access program would be very active right now and lots more people from across the board would be read in for the short term. Most stuff that is classified is not so much for the the information in the document but, to protect sources and methods.





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