WASHINGTON — Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that he hopes to see “significant improvement” this year on loosening classification standards in the infamously overclassified Pentagon.
Hyten said the process, which has the backing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, will attempt to make it easier to communicate with industry, the public and internally at the Defense Department.
“In many cases in the department, we’re just so overclassified it’s ridiculous, just unbelievably ridiculous,” Hyten told the audience at an Air Force Association event.
To underline his point, Hyten said when he was head of U.S. Strategic Command, he invited Adm. Harry Harris, then the head of U.S. Pacific Command, to a briefing — one so classified that their deputy commanders, both three-star officers, were not allowed to attend. If “the only people in the room are four-stars, you really can’t get any work done,” he noted.
Concerns about overclassification in the Pentagon have been long-standing. The department’s internal watchdog on Afghanistan issues considers it a major issue, and the Project on Government Oversight in December released a report warning of a “war on transparency” in the department, in part through what it called the unnecessary marking of documents as classified.
At December’s Reagan Defense Forum, Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said she will look into declassifying some space programs, stating that “there is much more classified than what needs to be.”
“We have got to push down the classification to where it makes sense,” Hyten said. “The good part is the chairman and the secretary have raised that issue, and we’re working that. And I think this year we’re going to have some significant improvement in that so we can actually share some very important things with our allies, with industry.”
Along those lines, Hyten said the Pentagon must ”do a better job of reaching out” to industry. He said he has a rule that if he is willing to meet with one company on a topic, he must meet with all the relevant players, but he also told the industry-heavy audience that “if you want to come see me, come see me. The door is open.”
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.