Wednesday, April 12, 2006

More Trouble for NARA

I've previously written about the "gratuitous reclassification" program undertaken at the National Archives in recent years (here and here), but I thought the most recently twist in that saga certainly worth noting. The LATimes (and others) report on the release of a previously-classified "Memorandum of Understanding" between the Archives and several intelligence agencies which laid out the strategy for reclassify documents and for keeping that action secret from researchers and the media.

The Associated Press filed a FOIA request for the MOU back in 2003, and NARA finally released a much-redacted version of the four-page document this week. It is now available on the Archives' website (PDF).

In part, the agreement reads "It is in the interest of both [agency name redacted] and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to avoid the attention and researcher complaints that may arise from removing material that has already been available publicly from the open shelves for extended periods of time." ... NARA "will not acknowledge the role of [redacted] AFDO [Air Force Declassification Office] in the review of these documents or the withholding of any documents determined to need continued protection from unauthorized disclosure."

The reclassification program, which began under the prior Archivist of the United States, has met with opposition from the current Archivist, Allen Weinstein, who has frozen the process until an internal audit of the reclassification program is completed. He said on Monday "I applaud the release of this document. It is an important first step in finding the balance between continuing to protect national security and protecting the right to know by the American public. This release underlines the cooperation of our Federal partners. The National Archives continues to work together with them and with the public to ensure that the issue of inappropriate classification is fully investigated."

This agreement between NARA and the intelligence agencies is troubling, and I certainly hope that Weinstein has put a stop to such shenanigans under his watch. While I fully support withholding documents that would truly endanger national security, reclassification of materials that have been available for decades and have in some cases even been published just doesn't make sense. I certainly look forward to hearing what the internal investigation reveals at the end of the month.


At 3:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A recent classified document surfaced with far reaching legal implications (to the govt.) It seems that the DOD wanted to cover up liability to a class of veterans and got messy in declassifying an applicable document.

Oh well, so is life in the incompetent lane.


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