Office of the Press Secretary
(Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts)
FEDERAL PANEL ORDERS DECLASSIFICATION OF
SELECTED COLD WAR DOCUMENTS
ISCAP was established on April 17, 1995, when President Clinton signed Executive Order 12958, the first effort since the end of the Cold War to reassess the balance between open government and the need to maintain secrets vital to national security. The order requires automatic declassification of information after 25 years, subject to very narrow exceptions.
Until the 1995 order, information could be classified indefinitely if it had originated with and been classified by a foreign government. Now, information twenty-five years or older can remain classified for diplomatic reasons only if disclosure would "seriously and demonstrably impair relations" with a foreign government or "seriously and demonstrably undermine ongoing diplomatic activities." Twenty-five year old information pertaining to the identity of an intelligence source can only remain classified under the new Order if disclosure "would clearly and demonstrably damage" national security.
ISCAP is chaired by the Justice Department representative, Roslyn A. Mazer, who was appointed chair by President Clinton in January 1996. Other representatives to the Panel were appointed by the Secretaries of State and Defense, the National Security Adviser, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Archivist of the United States.
"ISCAP's record to date demonstrates both the wisdom and practicality of the new Executive Order," Mazer said in releasing the two-year report. "The balance the President struck in the Order shows that government classifiers can achieve maximum responsible disclosure." In applying the new standards, "reflexive use of the old classification categories has been replaced by healthy skepticism," she said. "In our new, infinitely more complex security environment, ISCAP's actions will continue to protect our vital national security secrets but will make more information available to our citizens, scientists, and historians so that we can learn from the past and fashion a more secure future," Mazer said.
Since its inception, ISCAP has decided appeals seeking the declassification of 96 documents that remained fully or partially classified upon the completion of agency review. In the case of 81 documents, or 84.5% of the total, ISCAP declassified significant information in whole (59 documents) or in part (22 documents). ISCAP has affirmed agency classification actions fully for 15 of the 96 documents (15.5%).
Examples of Declassifications
Examples of ISCAP declassifications include:
Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel
c/o Information Security Oversight Office
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Room 5W
Washington, D.C. 20408
Steven Garfinkel, Director
Information Security Oversight Office
DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE
Jennifer A. Carrano
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
Sheila G. Dryden
NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION
Michael J. Kurtz
NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL
William H. Leary
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Frank M. Machak
Executive Order 12958, "Classified National Security Information," signed by President Clinton on April 17, 1995, and effective on October 14,1995, created the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, or "ISCAP." The President directed the ISCAP to perform three critical functions in implementing the Order's provisions. These are: (a) deciding on appeals by parties whose requests for declassification of information under the mandatory review provisions of the Order have been denied by the classifying agency; (b) approving, denying or amending agency exemptions from the automatic declassification provisions of the Order; and (c) deciding appeals brought by individuals who challenge the classification status of information that they lawfully possess. The work of the ISCAP is crucial to the implementation of E.O. 12958, because its decisions will ultimately establish the cutting edge between what information is declassified and what information remains classified.
Senior officials appointed by the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Attorney General, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Archivist of the United States, and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs make up the six voting members of the ISCAP. The President appointed Roslyn A. Mazer, currently serving as Special Counsel for Intellectual Property Matters, Criminal Division, Department of Justice, to serve as the ISCAP's chair. Other members serving during the period covered by this release are Michael J. Kurtz, Assistant Archivist of the United States; Douglas G. Perritt, Principal Director, Information Warfare, Security and Counterintelligence, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (C3I); Frank M. Machak, Information Management Reorganization Coordinator, Department of State; William H. Leary, Senior Director for Records and Access Management, National Security Council; Richard J. Wilhelm, Executive Director, Intelligence Community Affairs; and, from January-April 1998, Letitia A. Long, Acting Executive Director, Intelligence Community Affairs.
The Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), Steven Garfinkel, serves as the ISCAP's Executive Secretary, and ISOO provides its staff support. Interested persons may communicate about the ISCAP by contacting ISOO at the address, telephone or telefax numbers above, or by e-mail to the Executive Secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ISCAP's first public release, issued on June 2, 1997, described ISCAP's activities from when it first convened at the end of May 1996 through April 1997. This release focuses on ISCAP's activities from May 1997 through April 1998.
To date, the entirety of the ISCAP's decision caseload has consisted of mandatory review appeals, most involving documents from presidential libraries. Since April 1997, the ISCAP has decided additional appeals seeking the declassification of 62 documents that remained fully or partially classified upon the completion of agency processing. Of these, the ISCAP has voted to declassify 32 documents in full, to declassify significant portions of 16 others, and to affirm the agency's classification action in its entirety for 14 documents.
Viewing the totality of its decision docket from May 1996 to date, the ISCAP has declassified significant information in 84.5% of the documents on which it has voted (59 documents in full, 61.5%; 22 documents in part, 23%) The ISCAP has voted to affirm the agency's classification action fully for 15 documents (15.5%)
ISCAP actions from May 1997 through February 1998 illustrate how faithful application of the declassification standards for 25-year-old information results in unprecedented access to historically valuable records.
Under the prior Executive Order, information could be classified in perpetuity if it had originated with and been classified by a foreign government. That is not the case under E O. 12958. Applying the new Order, ISCAP declassified in full two 1966 letters to National Security Adviser Walt Rostow from Michael Palliser, Secretary to the British Prime Minister, which assessed Asian political developments. Classification of both letters in their entirety had been retained in 1994 because they involved foreign government information.
Similarly, 25-year-old information can now remain classified for diplomatic reasons only if disclosure would "seriously and demonstrably impair relations" with a foreign government or "seriously and demonstrably undermine ongoing diplomatic activities." Finding that this standard had not been met, the ISCAP declassified in their entirety two letters from Indian Prime Minister Nehru to President Kennedy that pertain to Indian concerns during the border conflict between India and the Peoples' Republic of China. The first letter was transmitted in mid-November 1962, while fighting continued. The second was transmitted on December 9, 1962, after a cease-fire had taken effect.
The ISCAP also declassified in full two Reports for the President's File, prepared by the American Embassy's interpreter, that summarize discussions on a variety of subjects between Japanese Prime Minister Sato and President Nixon in January 1972. These records came to the ISCAP with portions classified on foreign relations grounds.
Under E.O.12958, the exemption from declassification after 25 years for information pertaining to the identity of an intelligence source is available only if disclosure also "would clearly and demonstrably damage" national security. The ISCAP resolved appeals involving eight documents pertaining to events in the Dominican Republic around the time of its presidential election of June 1966. Of these, the ISCAP retained classification of four of them in full, and very minor portions of two others, as intelligence source-revealing. Two documents were declassified in full that pertain chiefly to U.S.-maintained biographies of prominent Dominicans.
ISCAP appeals often involve several documents on the same subject that present multiple declassification issues. Among such cases were the following:
During its deliberations, the ISCAP has sometimes consulted, through the State Department, with officials of foreign governments to obtain their views concerning the prospective declassification of particular documents involving their equities. The Department of State has reported receiving significant cooperation from these governments in the course of these consultations.
The following benchmarks of the ISCAP's work are notable:
Declassification of substantial amounts of foreign government information, which almost certainly would have remained classified under previous orders.
Continued classification of information that would be intelligence source revealing, or could jeopardize ongoing diplomatic activities.
A demonstrated willingness to examine afresh the justification for continued classification of each category of information - even for information that previously, for all intents and purposes, was classified in perpetuity.
Pragmatism has replaced reflexive use of classification categories. Balanced skepticism has replaced deference.