D.C., 26 April 2006 - Today the Information
Security Oversight Office (ISOO) released an audit
report of the secret historical document reclassification
program conducted at the National Archives and Records Administration
(NARA) by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Department
of Defense (DOD), and other government agencies since at least
1999. The reclassification program was exposed
in February 2006 when independent historian Matthew
M. Aid confronted NARA about the explanation for numerous records
being withdrawn from publicly available files. A subsequent inquiry
revealed the existence of two classified Memoranda of Understanding
(MOUs) between NARA, CIA,
Department of Energy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
and at least one other unidentified agency or agency component.
After the covert program was exposed, Archivist of the United
States Allen Weinstein imposed a moratorium on reclassification
activities until an audit was conducted of the program. The ISOO
audit report issued today found "a total of
ten unrelated efforts to identify such records, which resulted
in the withdrawal of at least 25,315 publicly available records."
The report found that 24 percent of sampled records were clearly
inappropriate for continued classification, and an additional
12 percent were questionable classification decisions, but were
withdrawn from public access nonetheless. Materials that had been
created in unclassified form or correctly declassified were reclassified
under these programs, and unclassified material was classified
in order to cover up the reclassification program. Even in cases
where the material met the standard for classification, ISOO concluded
in many cases that "insufficient judgment was applied to
the decision to withdraw the record from public access."
The report also stated that all of the agencies that signed the
secret MOUs now recognized that the agreements "should never
have been classified in the first place."
Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs reacted by stating, "We
are stunned to learn that this program is even larger than we
were previously told. For the last two months we thought only
9,500 records were reclassified. In fact more than twice that
number were reclassified, and we now know that re-reviews happened
at Presidential libraries as well as at NARA and that between
24 and 36 percent of those should not have been reclassified."
Commenting on the specific findings, Fuchs noted, "This
report confirms our fears that some Executive Branch agencies
are willing to pour taxpayer dollars into efforts to control all
information for all time without considering whether it is necessary
or even feasible. Not only did this surreptitious reclassification
program draw attention to information that otherwise would likely
have remained obscure, but it did so at tremendous cost. I can't
imagine that we are any safer today than we would be if this reclassification
program had never taken place."
The report includes a list of recommendations to prevent abuses
of the classification system in the future. These include implementation
of a National Declassification Initiative, public transparency
in re-review processes, additional training in equity recognition,
return of the improperly reclassified records to public access,
standardized procedures, and continued ISOO oversight. ISOO plans
to issue, within 60 days, guidance regarding essential documentation
for declassification actions.
Fuchs commented, "We need a rational program that can expedite
declassification of historic materials and is not controlled by
the territoriality of individual agencies, such as a National
Declassification Initiative like that recommended by the Moynihan
Commission on Secrecy in 1997. Any reclassification of material
should be held to a very high standard."