Protecting Secrets–and Each Other: The Prepublication Classification Review Board
All CIA officers, as a condition of employment, sign the standard CIA secrecy agreement when entering on duty. All contractors sign a secrecy agreement that is consistent with the terms and conditions of their contract. A secrecy agreement does not oblige officers and contractors to absolute silence, but it does require them to keep national security secrets for as long as the US Government determines the information to be classified under Executive Order 13526. This is a lifelong obligation which exists to help avoid the damage to national security and to the Agency’s mission that disclosing classified information would inflict. The CIA created the Prepublication Classification Review Board (PCRB) to review materials produced by CIA personnel– former and current (both employees and contractors) – to determine if they contain such classified information before they are shared with publishers, blog-subscribers, a TV audience, ghost-writers, co-authors, editors, family members, assistants, representatives, or anyone else not authorized to receive or review such classified information.
What Must Be Submitted to the PCRB?
Current and former CIA officers and contractors who have signed the standard CIA secrecy agreement are required to submit to the PCRB any and all materials they intend to share with the public that are intelligence related, such as materials that mention the CIA or intelligence activities, or that concern topics on which they had access to classified information while employed at or performing contractual work for CIA. In other words, this submission requirement extends beyond the limited topics they may have had immediate responsibility for on a day-to-day basis.
Definition of Publication
The term “publication” comprises more than a periodical or bound or electronic manuscript issued by a printing house or a media company. The term includes any form or means of communication (including oral or electronic) to any person or entity other than the CIA’s PCRB or a US Government official authorized by the CIA to receive such information. Such communication includes book reviews, opinion pieces or editorials, scholarly papers, resumés, scripts, screenplays, blogs, and speeches. The CIA secrecy agreement requires such communication to be submitted for prepublication review and approved prior to discussing the material with, or showing it to, individuals such as a publisher, co-author, agent, editor, ghost-writer, personal representative, family member, or assistant.
“Relating to” CIA or Intelligence Activities
Former and current CIA officers and contractors are not required to submit all proposed publications for prepublication review. For example, this requirement does not apply to material created around subjects such as gardening, wine tasting, stamp collecting, or sports; these are likely to be outside of the purview of the CIA mission and intelligence. However, commentary on matters such as intelligence operations or tradecraft (even fictional works), foreign intelligence, foreign events of intelligence interest, one’s career at CIA, scientific or technological developments discussed in an intelligence context, and other topics that touch upon CIA interests or responsibilities need PCRB approval.
Why Must Materials Be Reviewed?
The Agency’s prepublication review requirement is meant not only to protect national security, but also to provide a safe harbor for current and former CIA officers and contractors from legal liability. While the PCRB exists to help protect against unauthorized disclosures, current and former CIA officers and contractors are ultimately responsible for protecting classified information. Should a current or former CIA officer or contractor publish materials that contain classified information—accidently or intentionally—they may be subject to civil and criminal penalties. The PCRB assists current and former CIA officers and contractors in identifying problematic material and works with them to find ways to make their points, while avoiding the exposure of classified information.
What Kind of Information Might Be Classified?
Executive Order 13526 (sec. 1.4) states that the following categories of information may be classified if unauthorized disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause identifiable or describable damage to the national security:
- Military plans, weapons systems, or operations;
- Foreign government information;
- Intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology;
- Foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources;
- Scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the national security;
- United States Government programs for safeguarding nuclear materials or facilities;
- Vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to the national security; or
- The development, production, or use of weapons of mass destruction
Prepublication Review of Resumés
For current and former employees and contractors of the Agency, composing an unclassified resumé may present a challenge. In some cases, individual pieces of information may not cause damage to national security when standing alone, but can do so if combined or associated with other information—this is sometimes referred to as the “mosaic effect.” As a general rule, the following items CANNOT be used in resumé:
- Countries – Use regional terms instead of specific cities or countries
- Agency-specific – Use general training or software descriptions as opposed to the specific names or titles, which may be classified
- Names of People or Locations
- Numbers – Use general terms to describe budget information and/or personnel information (e.g., “hundreds” or “millions” or “several”)
- Office – Do not use organizational names below the office level (e.g., avoid group or branch names).
- Technical details – Use general terms instead of the specific details
You should limit resumé submissions—to include cover letters, resumés, bios, LinkedIn updates, and/or letters of recommendation—to two per year; this will help reduce wait times for resumé review and return. Once your submission is reviewed and approved for use, you can tailor your resumé to your needs and job application as long as you do not add any new information related to your time with the Agency. A re-review also is not required if only grammatical changes are made or information irrelevant to the Agency is added or altered.
Manuscript Prepublication Classification Review
Manuscript review is a nuanced examination of a product submitted by an author, heavily dependent on the context in which it is written/prepared for release, prior authorized/official releases of Agency information, and the type of content involved. Items subject to manuscript review include but are not limited to: speeches, academic papers, videos, books, screenplays, and tattoos. Works of both fiction and non-fiction are subject to manuscript review. In general, use the AVOID acronym as a guide on the details that should not be included in a manuscript submission:
- Agency officers and assets – Be mindful of cover concerns and operational sensitivities
- Validate open sources – Use only information declassified or released through official U.S. Government channels
- Operational details – Use the Agency’s Electronic Reading Room to verify official releases on operations
- Intelligence sources and methods – Use unclassified information that is generalized and unspecific where possible
- Disclosing locations – Use regional terms, HQs, or officially released historical locations
Manuscripts must be completely unclassified at the time of submission. Because of the variance in products subject to manuscript review, each submission is reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis.
The PCRB review timeline is dependent on the type of and the content within the submitted work. The Board makes every effort to accommodate tight deadlines for items such as academic papers, op-eds, and the like, but a review may require several weeks to months, even for what may appear to be routine requests, such as resumés and cover letters. Your employment history, the volume of requests, and the length and complexity of your request will impact the review timeline, as will reviews requiring external coordination. Review time for manuscripts, may vary—from days to months—depending on the length, content, and scope of the submission.
As a reminder, the PCRB is not authorized to release official records or text from Government documents. Individuals seeking such information may submit a FOIA or Privacy Act Request using the procedures.
How to Reach Us
Former Agency officers and contractors can contact the PCRB through the Contact CIA page—when using the web form, please be sure to fill out the form completely, including your full legal name and email address where you can be reached.
 Manuscripts also include (but are not limited to) the following: academic papers, articles for any type of media (newspapers, magazines, etc.), biographies, books, book chapters, logos, maps, outlines, photographs, presentation slides, tattoos, videos, and any type of ad hoc pieces.
 You should contact the Prepublication Classification Review Board before using Agency colleagues as references.