Ultimate in Paperwork: a Palindrome

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

AS if all that uproar caused by the Oliver Stone movie "JFK" wasn't bad enough.

Now, in a development sure to interest conspiracy theorists everywhere, it turns out that the total number of documents classified by the United States government in fiscal 1991 is a palindrome. That is, it reads the same forward and backward.

Last year, US government agencies made 7,107,017 classification decisions, according to Information Security Oversight Office, (ISOO), the arm of the General Services Agency that follows such things. That this number can be flipped, and remain the same, did not escape official notice.

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"This marks the first time that the total number of reported classification decisions in a year is a palindrome," notes the just-released ISOO annual report.

"Having no numerologists on its staff, ISOO is unprepared to analyze what this peculiarity forebodes, but is open to suggestion."

Peculiarity aside, the figure also represents a 4.6 percent increase in classification activity from fiscal 1990.

One might thus conclude that government officials responsible for classifying papers haven't gotten the message that there's a kinder, gentler world out there.

But there's a another reason for the increase in classification, says the ISOO - the Gulf War.

Desert Storm's impact can be seen from the fact that the Defense Department accounted for 61 percent of all classification actions in 1991, up from around 50 percent in fiscal 1990. Outside of war-related activity it seems that easing of world tension is "beginning to result in a significant downturn of classification activity," claims the ISOO report.

For example, the number of people whose job description includes the ability to classify information in the first place went down slightly last year, to 6,474. That's still more than the low point of 6,467 "original classifiers" reported in 1989.

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