In a previous question here the question was asked about redactions in a congressional report. One answer stated that "only documents released under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request need to carry the justification or authority for why the information was redacted." Unfortunately that is incorrect as cited by the National Archives here, that states "Each redaction will be associated with a redaction code, which gives the reason for why the information cannot be released", and goes on to specify those codes.

In the now declassified House of Representatives report released last week, I notice that the classification banner is partially redacted. redacted banner

Is there a plausible explanation why the public can't be exposed to the Classification code that was applied prior to the document being declassified?

BTW, for those interested the DOD has a public document detailing their classification procedures here

  • Given that the one answer so far is entirely focused on the second part of this question, and the two parts don't really relate other than that they're both about classification, you may want to split this into two separate questions. Leave the question about redacting the classifcation banner, so that the answer makes sense, but re-ask the first part separately.
    – Bobson
    May 3, 2018 at 21:28
  • good suggestion, I'll edit the question and ask a new question focused on the first issue.
    – BobE
    May 4, 2018 at 3:23
  • Your assertion that Congress has to follow the rules set by an Executive Branch agency is incorrect. May 4, 2018 at 11:06
  • Agreed, however I've been unable to find any "rules" set by the legislative branch for redactions. So are their any rules or guidelines regarding legislative documents?
    – BobE
    May 4, 2018 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


To answer the banner issue, it's an issue of what information is blocked out. Typically, the space between the TOP SECRET and NOFORN is compartmentalized accesses that are required to view the document. Just because you hold a Top Secret Clearance and you are an American Citizen (the only people who are allowed to view NOFORN documents) doesn't automatically mean you can read this. You also must have a work related "Need to Know" reason to see this information. These are divided in a process called Compartmentalization and while the cover terms for these compartments are not, themselves, classified, they appear in the same document with information they handle, so this redaction prevents association of a particular program with a particular product that they produced.


So your information seems to be assuming that there will only be two sections of information in the banner. There are three.

The Clasification (CLASS) the Special Accesses (SAP) and the Dissemination (DISS). These terms are not official, I just don't want my examples to be official looking. These sections are separated with double slashes "//". So that a typical banner will look like this:


Additionally, if there is more than one piece of information in a section of the banner it will be noted by a single slash "/" such that:

CLASS//SAP/more SAP/One More SAP//DISS/really watch yourself DISS

As a final note, the CLASS will only have the phrases: UNCLASSIFIED, CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET, or TOP SECRET in its section. It will never have a single slash "/". Additionally, the DISS section will always start with either REL or NOFORN.

Finally, although rare to happen, if a classification has no SAP or NO DISS, it is skipped. So those banners read:


Since TOP SECRET AND NOFORN are visible in this, we can assume everything between those two phrases are SAP markings. Everything after NOFORN are additional dissemination controls.

Hope this revision helps explain why it's blotted out.

  • If I follow, between SECRET// and //NOFORN are likely dissemination controls, examples of which might be "REL USA,GBR" , "SAP-N" and the like.
    – BobE
    May 3, 2018 at 20:11
  • 2
    @BobE: No... NOFORN is a dissemination control (Meaning No Foreign release, as opposed to REL USA, ect which are the list of country codes a document can be released too.) In between those two phrases are a series of Compartmental codes which denotes what in house programs can view this information. If you are in program COMPARTMENT-A you cannot see anything being done by program COMPARTMENT-B, which you are not in.
    – hszmv
    May 3, 2018 at 20:18
  • @BobE: Here are some possible examples of could be in the gap area... but it's not a full list: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – hszmv
    May 3, 2018 at 20:18
  • I was applying the format described by the DOD manual that includes formatting of classification banners: cdse.edu/documents/cdse/Marking_Classified_Information.pdf
    – BobE
    May 3, 2018 at 20:24
  • @BobE: On your own link, check out Special Access Programs, starting on page 26. I'll edit and explain what is going on.
    – hszmv
    May 3, 2018 at 20:38

The basic format of a classification marking on intelligence community documents is:

Classification//SCI//SAP//AEA//FGI//Dissem//Non-IC markings

The main blacked-out section would contain SCI, SAP, AEA, and/or FGI markings. SCI and SAP are both types of formal access limits meant to compartmentalize particularly sensitive information; access to SCI or SAP information requires you to be not only cleared for the applicable classification level, but specifically granted access to that compartment (for SCI) or program (for SAP). AEA markings are for nuclear secrets, and probably aren't on the document. FGI markings mean the document contains information shared with the US by an ally under conditions of secrecy.

The mere existence of SCI compartments or SAP programs can be considered sensitive information. Only 3 SCI control systems (HCS, SI, and TK) are publicly disclosed, and no SAP programs are publicly disclosed. If the SCI or SAP name is classified or even just FOIA-exempt, it'd be redacted in a report. The reason these names are often considered sensitive is as one layer of added security. If it was public knowledge that, say, FRIBBLE was an SCI system used by US intelligence, it would mean that someone could search for occurrences of the word FRIBBLE and try to piece together info that somehow made its way into the public sphere. US intelligence agencies are very protective of pretty much all information about how they operate; they really don't want people to be able to piece together unclassified info and figure out something classified.

As for FGI, the US doesn't want to share the list of countries we collaborate with on intelligence matters.

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