SECSTATE’s Original Classification Authority

Did you know that the Secretary of State has the authority to classify documents up to and including the TOP SECRET level? Very few high-level positions within the government have Original Classification Authority (OCA).  The Secretary of State’s OCA comes from the Original Classification Authority Executive Order that came as a follow on to Executive Order 13526 — Classified National Security Information, both issued by President Obama on 29 December 2009.

According to Executive Order 13526, an OCA is required to receive annual training in proper classification (including the avoidance of over-classification) and declassification.  The training must include instruction on the proper safeguarding of classified information.   OCAs that do not receive such mandatory training at least once within a calendar year shall have their classification authority suspended.   Thus, officials with OCA between 2010 and 2012 should have received this required training in 2010, 2011, and again in 2012.

Bottom Line:  As a trained OCA, there is no excuse for the failure to follow proper security procedures, nor for the failure to recognize highly classified information when it is encountered (e.g. on a non-government secured email account not accredited to handle classified information at any level).  This leads to another security failure (the failure to follow proper “spillage” procedures when that classified information is determined to be located on an unclassified medium).

So, now for the details.

By Executive Order, the Secretary of State and other senior officials were appointed as an OCA.

Here is how that appointment begins:


The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Executive Order 13526- Original Classification Authority

Pursuant to the provisions of section 1.3 of the Executive Order issued today, entitled “Classified National Security Information” (Executive Order), I hereby designate the following officials to classify information originally as “Top Secret” or “Secret”:


Executive Office of the President:

The Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff

The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (National Security Advisor)

The Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

The Director of National Drug Control Policy

The Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

The Chair or Co-Chairs, President’s Intelligence Advisory Board

Departments and Agencies:

The Secretary of State

The Secretary of the Treasury

The Secretary of Defense

The Attorney General

The Secretary of Energy

The Secretary of Homeland Security

The Director of National Intelligence

The Secretary of the Army

The Secretary of the Navy

The Secretary of the Air Force

The Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

The Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The Director, Information Security Oversight Office



The reference is to this document, published the same day:


The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Executive Order 13526- Classified National Security Information

This order prescribes a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding, and declassifying national security information, including information relating to defense against transnational terrorism.  Our democratic principles require that the American people be informed of the activities of their Government.  Also, our Nation’s progress depends on the free flow of information both within the Government and to the American people.  Nevertheless, throughout our history, the national defense has required that certain information be maintained in confidence in order to protect our citizens, our democratic institutions, our homeland security, and our interactions with foreign nations.  Protecting information critical to our Nation’s security and demonstrating our commitment to open Government through accurate and accountable application of classification standards and routine, secure, and effective declassification are equally important priorities.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:


Section 1.1.  Classification Standards.  (a)  Information may be originally classified under the terms of this order only if all of the following conditions are met:

(1)  an original classification authority is classifying the information;

(2)  the information is owned by, produced by or for, or is under the control of the United States Government;

(3)  the information falls within one or more of the categories of information listed in section 1.4 of this order; and

(4)  the original classification authority determines that the unauthorized disclosure of the information reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism, and the original classification authority is able to identify or describe the damage.

(b)  If there is significant doubt about the need to classify information, it shall not be classified.  This provision does not:

(1)  amplify or modify the substantive criteria or procedures for classification; or

(2)  create any substantive or procedural rights subject to judicial review.

(c)  Classified information shall not be declassified automatically as a result of any unauthorized disclosure of identical or similar information.

(d)  The unauthorized disclosure of foreign government information is presumed to cause damage to the national security.

Sec. 1.2.  Classification Levels.  (a)  Information may be classified at one of the following three levels:

(1)  “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.


The Executive Order continues by describing the training required to be an OCA in Section 1.3, (5)(d):

Sec. 1.3.  Classification Authority. 

(5)  Delegations of original classification authority shall be reported or made available by name or position to the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office.(d)  All original classification authorities must receive training in proper classification (including the avoidance of over-classification) and declassification as provided in this order and its implementing directives at least once a calendar year.  Such training must include instruction on the proper safeguarding of classified information and on the sanctions in section 5.5 of this order that may be brought against an individual who fails to classify information properly or protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure.  Original classification authorities who do not receive such mandatory training at least once within a calendar year shall have their classification authority suspended by the agency head or the senior agency official designated under section 5.4(d) of this order until such training has taken place.  A waiver may be granted by the agency head, the deputy agency head, or the senior agency official if an individual is unable to receive such training due to unavoidable circumstances.  Whenever a waiver is granted, the individual shall receive such training as soon as practicable.


Here are the types of information that can be classified, as directed by the Executive Order:

Sec. 1.4.  Classification Categories.  Information shall not be considered for classification unless its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security in accordance with section 1.2 of this order, and it pertains to one or more of the following:

(a)  military plans, weapons systems, or operations;

(b)  foreign government information;

(c)  intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology;

(d)  foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources;

(e)  scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the national security;

(f)  United States Government programs for safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities;

(g)  vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security; or

(h)  the development, production, or use of weapons of mass destruction.





No, this is not a classified document.

It is just a cover letter (below), and when separated from the attachments mentioned in the cover letter, it is UNCLASSIFIED.

No attachments

The cover letter indicates that the attachments in question are former Secretary of State Clinton’s emails sent over the internet.  The intelligence community (IC) analysis shows that some of the emails are classified up to the TOP SECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN level.  What does this mean?  The three classification levels (TOP SECRET, SECRET and CONFIDENTIAL) are ranked in order of the damage that compromise would do to national security.  TOP SECRET is the highest category, and is information that would cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if compromised.

The emails in question are even more sensitive than TOP SECRET with the additional caveats of SI and TK.  You will have to Google those two terms, but you should know that the type of information held to be that level is extremely sensitive.  NOFORN means no foreign nationals can access the information.   I would suggest that anyone holding cabinet rank would realize (or should have realized) that the information should not be sent over unsecure or UNCLASSIFIED email.  She was not the HUD Secretary.  This is a Secretary of State that cannot recognize highly classified information when she sees it.  TOP SECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN level was protected as it if were UNCLASSIFIED.  Was it because she couldn’t recognize the difference, or because she was reckless? Even if the information was not (yet) marked as classified, it should be clear that it is classified at a high level.  At best, we are talking about a “spillage” incident in which classified information is transmitted via a network not accredited for the sensitivity of the information.

Anyone who has ever held a security clearance would likely recoil in “I can’t believe it” horror at the thought of sending TOP SECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN information over the internet.  Then there would be the ugly, ugly repercussions…..

So here is the cover letter to the IC evaluation of those emails.  I downloaded it from Senator Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) Senate website.  Don’t freak out when you see the top and bottom markings.

No attachments

Clinton Server UNCLAS cover letter