Can the President overrule "Top Secret" classification?

I presume that the various procedures for making certain information classified and for determining who this information can be revealed to is a matter of federal law. But does the President of the United States have the discretionary power to overrule the classification either of information or of a person?

I don’t have a cite, but yes. The President can decide to declassify material, simply by the process of announcing or releasing it. Examples would be the U2 pictures taken over Cuba, and the audio tape of the Russian pilot shooting down the KAL airliner in the 80’s.

As an example, Jimmy Carter announced the existence of the stealth bomber, despite the fact it had previously been top secret.

Yeah, all the people who do the actual classification work for the President. He can overrule them at will.

Don’t forget that Top Secret classification is not that big a deal. It sounds good, but people that are cleared for Top Secret include general office staff. Alpha and Bravo classifications are much higher on the security ladder, and no, the president cannot just decide to make this information public. Much of this information is classified before too many people even know it’s existance. Remeber that the president is a busy guy, he dosen’t read every single thing that goes on in the name of the US govt. on a daily basis. He trust’s his staff to do those things.

Changing the topic slightly:

Can the president ask for and see top secret info? Or are there some things that are classified that even the president is not allowed to see?


There shouldn’t be – the president by the nature of his job should have the highest possible security clearance.

This doesn’t mean people in the DoD my decide to keep things from him, either because they don’t trust him, or they want him to have deniability.

The problem is a practical one.

For instance, even now, there are tons of douments from World War I that are still “classified.” Is there any good reason NOT to declassify them? No. But even if the President wanted all those files declassified, he can’t just do that by fiat. A team of specialists would have to go through all those files and declassify them.

That’s time-consuming and expensive… which is a big part of the reason so many things remain classified loooong after there’s any valid reason for it.

Huh? IIRC, both the F117A and B2 were not announced until 1987 or 88, many years after his term.

Of course, speculation of the F19 was rampant for a few years before this, but I don’t believe even as early as Jimmy’s term.

The President would have to suffer through the red tape to declassify information just like anyone else in the government. And like what other posters already said, usually the staff would do this and I’m sure all the paperwork wouldn’t just sit in someone’s inbox at the gov entity that “owns” the TS info, and it would automatically go to the top of the pile.

How is it done? This is a basic overview… If the White House wants to get a hold of TS info, then they would have to basically ask for permission from the hosting facility (can be a private company or a government branch) by sending a letter and it is up to the Facility Security Officer of the facility to do his/her research to clear the White House for knowledge of the info. This can be denied, but usually isn’t if it’s the White House. If the White House wants to declassify the info it obtained, they would then send electronic submittal of forms to the Defense Security Service and a courtesy letter to the IS Field Rep, stating that the information does not need to be at the TS level anymore. More paperwork.

I’ll admit that some TS information and sites seem trivial, but some most definitely are. Things that can be classified as TS can range from a room with a file box of classified blueprints, to a nuclear research lab’s boiler room, to a pile of 2 x 4s and pipes waiting to be placed inside a U.S. Embassy, to a large contractor’s server and all the information on it. People who have TS clearances can be the janitor who mops the floor of the TS cleared building, to the CFO of a corporation with government contracts, to the military personnel who has to configure networks.

I’ve heard that every time a person submits paperwork in for a TS clearance, it costs the government at least $20,000 worth of man-hours for the paperwork to be processed and several months, sometimes years, for a person to be cleared. I assume declassification would cost a pretty penny and is not done unless the information needs to be disclosed to the public.

Hope this “cleared” some things up. <–me attempting to be punny. Um, nm.

Come on people, this is GQ, we can do better than rampant speculation. How about a few cites?

Executive Order 12958 - Classified National Security Information

Also see Executive Order 12968 - Access to Classified Information

Carter did leak Top-Secret info about the F117:

Bolding mine.

av8rmike has a good site about which government entity can classify information. But, it doesn’t answer the OP’s question. The President can not simply overrule a classification that was made by another government agency. There are steps that need to be done, forms to fill out, letters to write–and each piece of classified info is different. Classification on info or sites can simply expire. He doesn’t have absolute authority over what can be classified, except by what was authorized by the President (and I’m even sure that requires paperwork also). There’s also been a proposal to establish a central declassification system, because things get so mucked up.

From this site:

Let’s imagine it’s a Tom Clancy book or a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. We’re about four hundred pages or seventy minutes into it and the plucky low level hero (Bruce Willis) has been called to an emergency meeting with the President (Gregory Peck):

Captain Smith: … so that’s where we stand, Mr President. God help us all, but there’s nothing we can do.
President: General Johnson, I think it’s time we tell Captain Smith the real secret behind Operation Omega.
General Johnson: But Mr President … Captain Smith isn’t cleared for that kind of information.
President: He is now. Tell him everything, General. That’s an order.
General Johnson: Yes, Mr President. Well, Captain, let me start at the beginning …

Now, leaving aside the melodrama, is this legal? Could the General have said, “I’m sorry, Mr President, but that order is illegal.”

Technically it might be out-of-procedure (and possibly illegal).

As a practical matter anyone who tried to either A) obstruct the President from doing so or B) prosecute the President for doing so would end up in the private sector pretty damn fast.

HB: No entitie within the Executive Depatment is “another government agency” with regards to the President. The President is the head of the Executive Department.

Er…that would be entitity, not entitie above.

So you’re saying that the President does have the authority to overrule a classification deemed sensitive to national security? Cite? Or are we talking about semantics and I should have said “a government,” instead of “another government?” If that’s the case, I’d edit it if I could.

Having a higher level of clearance does not give free reign for someone to view, obtain or have knowledge of info or places or over people with the same level of clearance or lower. Believe it or not, even Bush would have to get permission to come to a secured site or view secured info.

Let’s put it in a possible and legal scenario:
Bush wants to come to a TS cleared facility of a company that has contracts with the Army. This company manufactures a patented widget that goes into fighter planes. Bush shows up at the front gates, unannounced and gets turned away, because he’s not on a list of cleared personnel. Then, Bush writes a letter to the Facility Security Officer for permission to enter the premises. The FSO denies the request. Then Bush decides he wants to declassify the widget so he can check it out. He may find that he can’t because the declassification instructions for the widget won’t let him, by stating it can not expire or be downgraded or declassified until ten years after the widget has stopped being manufactured. So, he tries to declassify the facility and the people that work for the company. He will find that the only way to do this is to prove: 1) there is no need for facility or people to be cleared at the TS level anymore–hard to do, since they manufacture the widget; 2) has been involved in suspicious activities; 3) does not manufacture the widget anymore, which would mean breaking the contract.

All this can be found in the all holy NISPOM (National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual–the DSS provides copies) and the Essentials of Industrial Security Management Handbook that can be downloaded in .pdf format at the website.

Can one President designate a career bureaucrat as a classification authority? If that were the case, then the next President may remain uninformed of certain matters, subject to the discretion of the bureaucrat.

None of which is allowed to apply to the President in practical terms.

Formally he could just say “I issue an executive order that, for National Security reasons I must get in this building.”

Informally he could say, “Shut the fuck up you low life contractor or you won’t get a contract to catch dogs from here on out.”

The President controls those people doing the controlling. Literally, what he says goes.