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29 June 1999


At the request of the President and Council of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), I am forwarding the enclosed resolution which was adopted last week by the SHAFR Council. Please do not hesitate to contact me for further information or additional details.

For the SHAFR Council

Warren F. Kimball
Member, State Department Historical Advisory Committee


Adopted June 26, 1999


Over the past decade, the United States Government has made significant strides toward the kind of rational, cost-effective, common sense policy regarding information security that our democratic principles call for. The documentary record of the Cold War, now history, was becoming more accessible to the American public, allowing it and its representatives to analyze and learn from the historical record. Executive Order 12958 (Information Security), effective as of October 1995, had established clear goals for declassification review, but left declassification standards and implementation procedures up to the agencies holding the records. Some, like the State Department, were remarkably successful. In fact, most government agencies, with a few glaring exceptions, made a good faith effort to meet the Executive Order's goal of having systematically reviewed for declassification by 2000 all of their records that were 25 years old or older. The success of the process is demonstrated by the fact that some 600,000,000 pages were declassified in the first 3 years of the Executive Order, and that figure approaches 3/4 billion pages as of today.

The key element in that process is the review of twenty-five year old information to determine whether or not it could be released to the public. Only the agencies that "owned" or had an "equity" in the classified information could authorize declassification. In other words, declassification rests firmly in the hands of the agency that originally classified the information. That safeguard has worked. According to the Information Security Oversight Office they have received no reports of inadvertent disclosures of classified material in documents released under Executive Order 12958. The director of the Department of Energy's Security Affairs Office has indicated that no release of classified nuclear weapons information (Restricted Data/Formerly Restricted Data) has occurred through systematic declassification review under the Executive Order.

Despite such dramatic results, various efforts are being made that could drastically curb or even destroy this declassification review effort. Legislation limiting the resources an agency is permitted to commit to the systematic declassification review of historical records that are twenty- five years old or older threatens to gut the entire process. These challenges to openness are propelled, in part, by the tendency of the media and some political leaders wrongly to equate declassification of records that are twenty-five years old or older with recent espionage and leaks of classified information. This misconception is exacerbated by the unprofessional records management procedures followed by a number of agencies. Simply put, too many agencies do not know what is in their records, classified or otherwise.

As the record demonstrates, systematic declassification carried out under Executive Order 12958 does not pose any threat to national security. But dismantling the systematic review process does pose a threat, a very serious threat, to the creation and maintenance of an informed public, which is both a prerequisite to and a principle of democracy.


The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations urges Congress and the Executive Branch to protect the American democracy by:

(1) rejecting attempts to erode and even eliminate the procedures set forth in Executive Order 12958;

(2) by enacting and implementing legislation codifying the procedures set forth in Executive Order 12958; and

(3) by requiring all agencies to implement professional records management programs that meet the archival standards established by the National Archives and Records Administration.

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