Special access program

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Concept.png Special access program 
(Tradecraft,  Statecraft,  Classification,  black project)Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
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Start8 March 1972

Special access programs in the U.S. Federal Government are security protocols that provide highly classified information with safeguards and access restrictions that exceed those for regular classified information.[1]

SAPs can range from black projects to routine but especially-sensitive operations, such as COMSEC maintenance or presidential transportation support.


Just before World War II Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8381, creating the three security levels for top secret programs called "Restricted", "Confidential", and "Secret".[2] Truman, Eisenhower and Nixon expanded the programs subsequently. Nixon formally invented a new section in a law for the programs that are even more secret to have a higher level than "(top) secret", which started the term "Special Access Programs", giving it the name. The "Sensitive Classified Info" they contain could immediately damage the government of the countries in them.[3]


What Are Special Access Programs (SAPs) and What Do They Mean? - the Not Top Secret podcast

Two types of SAP exist—acknowledged and unacknowledged. The existence of an acknowledged SAP may be publicly disclosed, but the details of the program remain classified. An unacknowledged SAP (or USAP) is made known only to authorized persons, including members of the appropriate committees of the United States Congress.

Waived SAPs are a subset of unacknowledged SAPs in the Department of Defense. These SAPs are exempt by statutory authority of the Secretary of Defense from most reporting requirements and, within the legislative branch, the only persons who are required to be informed of said SAPs are the chairpersons and ranking committee members of the:

  • Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Senate Armed Services Committee
  • House Appropriations Committee
  • House Armed Services Committee.

Known programs also have been revealed to be regarding the national plan for nuclear war; Presidential logistic activities; Nuclear Weapon Personnel Programs; Chemical Personnel procedures and the NATO classified info on all of the above.


Compartmentalization has become a staple for big media not covering SAPs. Since Barack Obama's Executive order 13526, A SAP can only be initiated, modified, and terminated within their department or agency, and can be stay classified for as long as that agency deems it needed to.[4]


Former President Obama's executive order in 2009 also made sure SAP only revealed on a need to know basis. A SAP can only be initiated, modified, and terminated within their department or agency; the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence; their principal deputies or others designated in writing by the US President. They are also the only one with the right to declassify or revise the classification levels to remove some individuals from accessing info on the SAPs when needed. The U.S. Secretary of Defense is obliged to submit a report, submitted by 1st of March yearly, to the defense committee on special access programs.[5][6]

Top secret: Keeping documents classified - CBS



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