[Marxism] U.S. to Declassify Secrets at Age 25 (NYT)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 21 11:13:48 MST 2006

by Ned Sublette,
musician and historian
of Cuban music

this is good news, but were the article not written in faux-objectif
times-ese, it would be a good deal harsher on the bush
administration. the pull quote:

L. Britt Snider, a former intelligence official who heads the Public
Interest Declassification Board, which advises the White House, said
most government records, even top-secret ones, were pretty boring.

"Rather than take this blunderbuss approach," Mr. Snider said, "I'd
like to see the agencies concentrate first on what's interesting and
what's important."

pretty boring! like gov docs are supposed to entertain us. but they
*did* concentrate first on what's interesting. they kept the *least
boring ones* -- especially many documents about poppy bush --
classified. with no less a spook than robert gates in charge of the
george h.w. bush presidential library at texas a&m, until recently.
anything good on TV?

BTW, jon weiner at last got the final ten pages of the FBI john
lennon files declassified. national security seems not to have been
jeopardized by the release of these documents. they're at

and speaking of secdef gates, didja see the quote from his first
official mission? "We need to make damned sure that the neighbors
understand that we're going to be here for a long time -- here being
the Persian Gulf." that's at



December 21, 2006
U.S. to Declassify Secrets at Age 25

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 - It will be a Cinderella moment for the band of
researchers who study the hidden history of American government.

At midnight on Dec. 31, hundreds of millions of pages of secret
documents will be instantly declassified, including many F.B.I. cold
war files on investigations of people suspected of being Communist
sympathizers. After years of extensions sought by federal agencies
behaving like college students facing a term paper, the end of 2006
means the government's first automatic declassification of records.

Secret documents 25 years old or older will lose their classified
status without so much as the stroke of a pen, unless agencies have
sought exemptions on the ground that the material remains secret.

Historians say the deadline, created in the Clinton administration
but enforced, to the surprise of some scholars, by the secrecy-prone
Bush administration, has had huge effects on public access, despite
the large numbers of intelligence documents that have been exempted.

And every year from now on, millions of additional documents will be
automatically declassified as they reach the 25-year limit, reversing
the traditional practice of releasing just what scholars request.

Many historians had expected President Bush to scrap the deadline.
His administration has overseen the reclassification of many
historical files and restricted access to presidential papers of past
administrations, as well as contemporary records.

Practical considerations, including a growing backlog of records at
the National Archives, mean that it could take months before the
declassified papers are ready for researchers.

"Deadlines clarify the mind," said Thomas S. Blanton, director of the
private National Security Archive at George Washington University,
which obtains and publishes historical government documents.

Despite what he called a disappointing volume of exemptions, Mr.
Blanton said automatic declassification had "given advocates of
freedom of information a real lever."

Gearing up to review aging records to meet the deadline, agencies
have declassified more than one billion pages, shedding light on the
Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and the network of Soviet
agents in the American government.

Several hundred million pages will be declassified at midnight on
Dec. 31, including 270 million pages at the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, which has lagged most agencies in reviews.

J. William Leonard, who oversees declassification as head of the
Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives, said
the threat that secret files might be made public without a security
review had sent a useful chill through the bureaucracy.

"Unfortunately, you sometimes need a two-by-four to get agencies to
pay attention," Mr. Leonard said. "Automatic declassification was
essentially that two-by-four."

What surprises await in the documents is impossible to predict.

"It is going to take a generation for scholars to go through the
material declassified under this process," said Steven Aftergood, who
runs a project on government secrecy for the Federation of American

"It represents the classified history of a momentous period, the cold
war," Mr. Aftergood said. "Almost every current headline has an echo
in the declassified past, whether it's coping with nuclear weapons,
understanding the Middle East or dictatorship and democracy in Latin

Anna K. Nelson, a historian at American University, said she hoped
that the files would shed light on the Central Intelligence Agency
role in Iran and deepen the documentation of the Jimmy Carter years,
in particular the Camp David accords.

"Americans need to know this history, and the history is in those
documents," Ms. Nelson said.

She said the National Archives staff was buried in a 400-million-page
backlog that awaits processing and is not publicly available.

Also, a budget shortfall has cut back on evening and weekend access
to the major research center of the archives, in College Park, Md.

"They can declassify the records, but the archives don't have the
staff to handle them," Ms. Nelson said.

The first deadline was imposed in an executive order that President
Bill Clinton signed in 1995, when officials realized that taxpayers
were paying billions of dollars to protect a mountain of cold war

The order gave agencies five years to declassify documents or show
the need for continued secrecy.

When agencies protested that they could not meet the 2000 deadline,
it was extended to 2003. Mr. Bush then granted another three-year
extension, but put out the word that it was the last one, despite the
new emphasis on security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a new
war in Iraq.

"The Bush administration could have said, 'This is a Clinton thing,'
and abandoned it," Mr. Aftergood, said. "To their credit, they did

As an enforceable deadline loomed, the intelligence agencies that
produce most secret material add workers to plow through files from
World War II.

The C.I.A. has reviewed more than 100 million pages, released 30
million pages and created a database of documents, Crest, that is
accessible from terminals at the National Archives. Although most of
the documents are exempt, they can be requested under the Freedom of
Information Act.

The National Security Agency, the eavesdropping and code-breaking
agency, has released 35 million pages, including an extensive
collection on the Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to the escalation
of the Vietnam War. The agency plans a major release early next year
on the Israeli attack on the Liberty, an American eavesdropping ship,
in 1967.

The F.B.I., by contrast, negotiated an exemption from the 1995
executive order and concluded last year that the 2003 executive order
ended its special status. It has rushed to review material, seeking
exemption for 50 million pages on intelligence, counterintelligence
and terrorism, but leaving 270 million pages to be automatically
declassified now.

Among those files, said David M. Hardy, the bureau declassification
chief, are those on investigations of Americans with suspected ties
to the Communist Party. Reviewers will keep working on the exempt
material to see what can be released, but it is a slow process, Mr.
Hardy said.

"The numbers of documents are staggering," Mr. Hardy said.

The bureau is studying digitizing documents and using computers to
search for classified material. Some experts say mass
declassification is not the smartest approach. L. Britt Snider, a
former intelligence official who heads the Public Interest
Declassification Board, which advises the White House, said most
government records, even top-secret ones, were pretty boring.

"Rather than take this blunderbuss approach," Mr. Snider said, "I'd
like to see the agencies concentrate first on what's interesting and
what's important."

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