Information Security:

Controls Over Unofficial Access to Classified Information

NSIAD-89-145: Published: Jun 8, 1989. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) agencies' procedures and practices for granting historians and former presidential appointees access to classified documents; and (2) the arrangements made for the disposition of classified papers related to the tenures of the former Secretaries of Defense and State.

GAO found that: (1) federal agencies may grant access to classified information only when they have determined that the individuals are trustworthy and access is essential to authorized government purposes; (2) agencies may waive the requirement for historical researchers and former presidential appointees if access is consistent with the interest of national security and they take steps to protect the information from unauthorized disclosure; (3) the Information Security Oversight Office did not provide any guidance on identification requirements for access by historians and former presidential appointees or security standards to ensure appropriate safeguards; (4) the number of researchers and former presidential appointees to whom agencies authorized access to classified information was relatively low during 1986 and 1987; and (5) there were no major problems due to the granted accesses. In addition, GAO found that: (1) the lack of guidance for historians and former presidential appointees resulted from differences in agency regulations; (2) Department of State regulations allowed personal research assistants working for former presidential appointees to have the same degree of access as the appointee; (3) Department of Defense (DOD) regulations did not provide for personal research assistants, but DOD allowed them the same degree of access; and (4) other agencies' regulations govern the level of classified information to which historical researchers may have access.

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