At the end of 1994 as we complete these four position papers, those concerned about the reform of current information security policies are still waiting for the Administration to issue the long awaited revision of the executive order that determines classification and declassification policy. The issues addressed in the preceding papers--achieving the appropriate criteria for continued classification of historical reports, determining how best to handle "foreign government information," seeking corrections to the current dispersal of authority, and establishing a high level interagency coordinating body--are as pressing today as they were when we first proposed this project in 1992. They are issues that constantly emerge in debates over the proper course for reforming current information security policies.
Some limited progress has been made toward correcting policies that are widely recognize as inefficient, too restrictive, and too costly. By calling for the revision of Executive Order 12356, which has been in place since 1982, President Clinton brought visibility to the problem and elevated the level of the debate. While solutions for establishing a new comprehensive information security policy are still being debated, the President did sign on November 10 Executive Order 12937 titled "Declassification of Selected Records Within the National Archives of the United States." This order, through bulk declassification, made available on December 12 almost 44 million pages of security-classified records. Since last spring, the White House had anticipated an order calling for bulk declassification of many of the classified records in the National Archives, some dating back to 1917. Almost half of these records deal with World War II records; and the original intention had been for the President to announce the opening of these records in June at the 50th anniversary of D-Day. But unresolved disagreements delayed the order until November.
The World War II documents that have been recently opened as a result of Executive Order 12937 include records from the Office of Strategic Service as well as Army Air Forces and Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters files. The remaining records include almost all the classified holdings dating from before World War II as well as some post World War II military headquarters files and approximately six million pages of papers from the Vietnam War.
This Executive Order underscores the President's commitment to using bulk declassification instead of the previously required time consuming and expensive page-by-page "view which has resulted in large quantities of historical records over forty or fifty years old still being classified." Yet the delays in achieving this limited order dealing with material forty and fifty years old suggest that a policy focusing on twenty-five year old material -- the recommendation in the March, 1994 Clinton draft -- will be a much more difficult struggle. As the dialogue over how to reform the classification/declassification policy continues, it is our hope that the preceding papers, written from the perspective of historians seeking to better understand our past, may help focus the debate, may provide useful background material, and may contribute to the crafting of a new executive order.