Tuesday, February 21, 2006
'Overall embrace of secrecy'
(Thanks to Drlobojo)
New York Times
February 21, 2006
U.S. Reclassifies Many Documents in Secret Review
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 — In a seven-year-old secret
program at the National Archives, intelligence
agencies have been removing from public access
thousands of historical documents that were available
for years, including some already published by the
State Department and others photocopied years ago by
READ THE REST IN THE FIRST COMMENT
55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999,
when the Central Intelligence Agency and five other
agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release
of sensitive information after a 1995 declassification
order signed by President Bill Clinton. It accelerated
after the Bush administration took office and
especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according
to archives records.
But because the reclassification program is itself
shrouded in secrecy — governed by a still-classified
memorandum that prohibits the National Archives even
from saying which agencies are involved — it continued
virtually without outside notice until December. That
was when an intelligence historian, Matthew M. Aid,
noticed that dozens of documents he had copied years
ago had been withdrawn from the archives' open
Mr. Aid was struck by what seemed to him the innocuous
contents of the documents — mostly decades-old State
Department reports from the Korean War and the early
cold war. He found that eight reclassified documents
had been previously published in the State
Department's history series, "Foreign Relations of the
"The stuff they pulled should never have been
removed," he said. "Some of it is mundane, and some of
it is outright ridiculous."
After Mr. Aid and other historians complained, the
archives' Information Security Oversight Office, which
oversees government classification, began an audit of
the reclassification program, said J. William Leonard,
director of the office.
Mr. Leonard said he ordered the audit after reviewing
16 withdrawn documents and concluding that none should
"If those sample records were removed because somebody
thought they were classified, I'm shocked and
disappointed," Mr. Leonard said in an interview. "It
just boggles the mind."
If Mr. Leonard finds that documents are being wrongly
reclassified, his office could not unilaterally
release them. But as the chief adviser to the White
House on classification, he could urge a reversal or a
revision of the reclassification program.
A group of historians, including representatives of
the National Coalition for History and the Society of
Historians of American Foreign Relations, wrote to Mr.
Leonard on Friday to express concern about the
reclassification program, which they believe has
blocked access to some material at the presidential
libraries as well as at the archives.
Among the 50 withdrawn documents that Mr. Aid found in
his own files is a 1948 memorandum on a C.I.A. scheme
to float balloons over countries behind the Iron
Curtain and drop propaganda leaflets. It was
reclassified in 2001 even though it had been published
by the State Department in 1996.
Another historian, William Burr, found a dozen
documents he had copied years ago whose
reclassification he considers "silly," including a
1962 telegram from George F. Kennan, then ambassador
to Yugoslavia, containing an English translation of a
Belgrade newspaper article on China's nuclear weapons
Under existing guidelines, government documents are
supposed to be declassified after 25 years unless
there is particular reason to keep them secret. While
some of the choices made by the security reviewers at
the archives are baffling, others seem guided by an
old bureaucratic reflex: to cover up embarrassments,
even if they occurred a half-century ago.
One reclassified document in Mr. Aid's files, for
instance, gives the C.I.A.'s assessment on Oct. 12,
1950, that Chinese intervention in the Korean War was
"not probable in 1950." Just two weeks later, on Oct.
27, some 300,000 Chinese troops crossed into Korea.
Mr. Aid said he believed that because of the
reclassification program, some of the contents of his
22 file cabinets might technically place him in
violation of the Espionage Act, a circumstance that
could be shared by scores of other historians. But no
effort has been made to retrieve copies of
reclassified documents, and it is not clear how they
all could even be located.
"It doesn't make sense to create a category of
documents that are classified but that everyone
already has," said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of
the National Security Archive, a research group at
George Washington University. "These documents were on
open shelves for years."
The group plans to post Mr. Aid's reclassified
documents and his account of the secret program on its
Web site, www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv, on Tuesday.
The program's critics do not question the notion that
wrongly declassified material should be withdrawn. Mr.
Aid said he had been dismayed to see "scary" documents
in open files at the National Archives, including
detailed instructions on the use of high explosives.
But the historians say the program is removing
material that can do no conceivable harm to national
security. They say it is part of a marked trend toward
greater secrecy under the Bush administration, which
has increased the pace of classifying documents,
slowed declassification and discouraged the release of
some material under the Freedom of Information Act.
Experts on government secrecy believe the C.I.A. and
other spy agencies, not the White House, are the
driving force behind the reclassification program.
"I think it's driven by the individual agencies, which
have bureaucratic sensitivities to protect," said
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American
Scientists, editor of the online weekly Secrecy News.
"But it was clearly encouraged by the administration's
overall embrace of secrecy."
National Archives officials said the program had
revoked access to 9,500 documents, more than 8,000 of
them since President Bush took office. About 30
reviewers — employees and contractors of the
intelligence and defense agencies — are at work each
weekday at the archives complex in College Park, Md.,
the officials said.
Archives officials could not provide a cost for the
program but said it was certainly in the millions of
dollars, including more than $1 million to build and
equip a secure room where the reviewers work.
Michael J. Kurtz, assistant archivist for record
services, said the National Archives sought to expand
public access to documents whenever possible but had
no power over the reclassifications. "The decisions
agencies make are those agencies' decisions," Mr.
Though the National Archives are not allowed to reveal
which agencies are involved in the reclassification,
one archivist said on condition of anonymity that the
C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency were major
A spokesman for the C.I.A., Paul Gimigliano, said that
the agency had released 26 million pages of documents
to the National Archives since 1998 and that it was
"committed to the highest quality process" for
deciding what should be secret.
"Though the process typically works well, there will
always be the anomaly, given the tremendous amount of
material and multiple players involved," Mr.
A spokesman for the Defense Intelligence Agency said
he was unable to comment on whether his agency was
involved in the program.
Anna K. Nelson, a foreign policy historian at American
University, said she and other researchers had been
puzzled in recent years by the number of documents
pulled from the archives with little explanation.
"I think this is a travesty," said Dr. Nelson, who
said she believed that some reclassified material was
in her files. "I think the public is being deprived of
what history is really about: facts."
The document removals have not been reported to the
Information Security Oversight Office, as the law has
required for formal reclassifications since 2003.
The explanation, said Mr. Leonard, the head of the
office, is a bureaucratic quirk. The intelligence
agencies take the position that the reclassified
documents were never properly declassified, even
though they were reviewed, stamped "declassified,"
freely given to researchers and even published, he
Thus, the agencies argue, the documents remain
classified — and pulling them from public access is
not really reclassification.
Mr. Leonard said he believed that while that logic
might seem strained, the agencies were technically
correct. But he said the complaints about the secret
program, which prompted his decision to conduct an
audit, showed that the government's system for
deciding what should be secret is deeply flawed.
"This is not a very efficient way of doing business,"
Mr. Leonard said. "There's got to be a better way."
NPEGTLRADL: pronounced "pagiddlerattle." (The N is silent)
What's the address?
Incidentally, the Drunk test just made me type in "thlimdtl" or "Thillim-dittle"...
That HAS to be an acronym for SOMETHING...