29 June 1999
For the SHAFR Council
Warren F. Kimball
Member, State Department Historical Advisory Committee
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.