Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Security: CIA removes 50 year old documents from open stack at National Archives

The National Security Archive, reports the following:

The CIA and other federal agencies have secretly reclassified over 55,000 pages of records taken from the open shelves at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), according to a report published today on the World Wide Web by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Matthew Aid, author of the report and a visiting fellow at the Archive, discovered this secret program through his wide-ranging research in intelligence, military, and diplomatic records at NARA and found that the CIA and military agencies have reviewed millions of pages at an unknown cost to taxpayers in order to sequester documents from collections that had been open for years.

The briefing book that the Archive published today includes 50 year old documents that CIA had impounded at NARA but which have already been published in the State Department's historical series, Foreign Relations of the United States, or have been declassified elsewhere. These documents concern such innocuous matters as the State Department's map and foreign periodicals procurement programs on behalf of the U.S. intelligence community or the State Department's open source intelligence research efforts during 1948.

Other documents have apparently been sequestered because they were embarrassing, such as a complaint from the Director of Central Intelligence about the bad publicity the CIA was receiving from its failure to predict anti-American riots in Bogota, Colombia in 1948 or a report that the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community badly botched their estimates as to whether or not Communist China would intervene in the Korean War in the fall of 1950. It is difficult to imagine how the documents cited by Aid could cause any harm to U.S. national security.

To justify their reclassification program, officials at CIA and military agencies have argued that during the implementation of Executive Order 12958, President Clinton's program for bulk declassification of historical federal records, many sensitive intelligence-related documents that remained classified were inadvertently released at NARA, especially in State Department files. Even though researchers had been combing through and copying documents from those collections for years, CIA and other agencies compelled NARA to grant them access to the open files so they could reclassify documents. While this reclassification activity began late in the 1990s, its scope widened during the Bush administration, and it is scheduled to continue until 2007. The CIA has ignored arguments from NARA officials that some of the impounded documents have already been published.

"Every blue ribbon panel that has studied the performance of the U.S. defense establishment and intelligence community since September 11, 2001 has emphasized the need for less secrecy and greater transparency," said Aid. "This episode reveals an enduring culture of secrecy in the U.S. government and highlights the need to establish measures prohibiting future secret reclassification programs.

"On Friday, February 17, Aid and representatives of the National Security Archive, the National History Coalition, Public Citizen Litigation Group, and the Society for the Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), wrote to J. William Leonard, director of the U.S. government's Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) asking ISOO to audit the reclassified documents, to return documents to the files, and develop better guidelines for the review of historical records.

Source: National Security Archive
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These materials are reproduced from with the permission of the National Security Archive