Friday, March 03, 2006

National Archivist: Stop the Insanity

Back on 2/21, I posted in "Gratuitous Reclassification" about a program undertaken by some of the national intelligence agencies to reclassify thousands of historical documents, many of which had been published and available for many years. Since then, we've seen at least one of the more absolutely ridiculous applications of the program, in the reclassification of the 1959 Pentagon Emergency Plans Book ... which anyone can purchase through Amazon for a mere $12.97.

Yesterday, the New York Times reports, current National Archivist Allen Weinstein ordered a "moratorium" on the reclassification program, directing "intelligence agencies ... to stop removing previously declassified historical documents from public access and urged them to return to the shelves as quickly as possible many of the records they had already pulled."

An audit by the Archives' Information Security Oversight Office is now studying which if any records should be reclassified. Weinstein "said the archives' goal was to make sure that government records that could safely be released were available." He will meet with intelligence agency representatives on Monday to inform them of the moratorium, and in his statement on Thursday called on the intel and military intel units to "commit the necessary resources to restore to the public shelves as quickly as possible the maximum amount of information consistent with the obligation to protect truly sensitive national security information."

This story is a very important one to me personally - I am, after all, training to be an archivist. The very idea that records long in the public eye would then suddenly be "disappeared" is totally antithetical to all principles of archival practice ... especially if the material they contain does not in any way warrant such a treatment (there could be certain very odd cases where such a reclassification is warranted, but it would be quite rare). I'm glad that Mr. Weinstein has stepped up here and announced this moratorium, but he'll almost certainly have a fight on his hands next week from the intel folks. I hope his backbone holds out.


At 3:07 PM, Blogger pacatrue said...

Since you are an archivist in training (MLS on the way?) and I have learned most of what I have about earmarked funds from your site, I thought I would let you know about a recent post on my blog about some earmarked funds headed this way to repair our library. I am not sure about posting links, so if anyone is interested, just click on my name here. Hope you are well, J

At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Paul Wartenberg said...

As a practicing librarian, I too share the complaint against the government's effort to classify and reclassify so much materials as 'secret' or restricted. Much of what they're trying to hide from the public has nothing to do with national security. If you've read Dean's 'Worse Than Watergate' you can see how Bush/Cheney are so intent on clamping down on ANY information (they even clamped down on stuff that would have been embarassing to Clinton because it would have opened up access to the embarassing stuff they were/are doing).
Here's the thing: like all current Presidents, Bush the Lesser is gearing up his very own Presidential Library. But in all honesty, what is he going to put in there? He's probably going to have *everything* classified to where he's not going to have a library at all! Seriously!

At 10:48 AM, Blogger JBD said...

paca, thanks for commenting, and an excellent post! Yes, an MLS is on the way: I'm doing a dual-degree MLS/MA program so I have a history focus as well.
Paul, you're right. Signing into the George W. Bush presidential library will presumably mean submitting a FOIA request six months in advance so maaaybe you can see what you're interested in! Scary, isn't it?


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