Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Classification Markings

This article continues the series covering the Self-Inspection Handbook For NISP Contractors and guidance found in the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM) Incorporating Change 2.

Question: Is all classified material, regardless of its physical form, marked properly?

The topic of Classification Markings covers eight of 138 NISPOM pages. That’s almost 5% of the NISPOM’s attention. That’s because the entire success of the Facility Security Officers security program to protection classified information depends on properly marked classified material and cleared employees’ responses to the requirements. This first article on the topic will cover classification markings at a high level, while future installments will drill down into specific actions and examples of best practices.

According to NISPOM:

4-200. General. Physically marking classified information with appropriate classification markings serves to warn and inform holders of the information of the degree of protection required…

4-201. Marking Requirements for Information and Material. … the markings specified … are required for all classified information regardless of the form in which it appears...

Properly annotating classification levels and handling instructions warns and notifies the holder of classified information. The holder of classified information is responsible for ensuring that they work with, store, transmit, and otherwise work with the classified material as appropriate with the classification level. They are also charged with ensuring only those with the proper clearance level and need to know gain access to the material.

According to the Original Classification Authority Desktop Reference, The OCA’s final step in the original classification decision process is to designate the information as classified and communicate the decision. There are three methods for communicating the decision.
• Security classification guides/declassification guides
• Properly marked source documents
• Outline classification instructions on a DD Form 254, DoD Contract Security Classification Specification

Properly Marked Source Documents:

The cleared employee working with classified information is required to use the classified information exactly as the OCA has specified. Once the government classified the information, the cleared defense contractors protect it and any derivative classified information appropriately. This includes proper markings on the physical item. These markings include classification level, “CLASSIFIED BY” Line, “DERIVED FROM” Line, “DECLASSIFY ON” Line, and “DOWNGRADE TO” Line. For documents classification markings should identify the level of the entire document and each portion (page, paragraph, graphic, and etc.).

These markings should stand out. Remember the purpose is to warn and inform. For example, if in a written document, the font size should be larger or the color significantly different to draw attention to the handling requirements. Marking should be applied to all material regardless of format or make up. Though there is no standard requiring a specific marking for a specific type or media, the user should do their best to warn and inform.

Follow Through:

Is all classified material, regardless of its physical form, marked properly?
  • Produce written process or procedures for marking classified materials.
  • Demonstrate inspection process to ensure internally generated, incoming and outgoing classified information is marked properly.
  • Cleared employees are trained on derivative classification and classification marking topics.


Jeffrey W. Bennett, ISP is the owner of Red Bike Publishing Red Bike Publishing . He regularly consults, presents security training, and recommends export compliance and intellectual property protection countermeasures. He is an accomplished writer of non-fiction books, novels and periodicals. Jeff is an expert in security and has written many security books including: "Insider's Guide to Security Clearances" and "DoD Security Clearances and Contracts Guidebook", "ISP Certification-The Industrial Security Professional Exam Manual", and NISPOM/FSO Training".

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