WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (UPI) The House and Senate Armed Services Committees are cutting the number of secret documents the Pentagon is able to declassify and release to the public, a move that could actually make it harder for the Pentagon to secure vital secret papers, experts warn.
According to the fiscal year 2000 defense authorization conference report released today, the committees are only allowing the Pentagon to spend $51 million a year declassifying documents that are historically significant and more than 25 years old, as called for by President Clinton in 1995. For the last three years the Defense Department has spent close to $200 million a year declassifying old records.
The edict puts a serious crimp in the Pentagon's ability to get rid of documents that no longer affect national security, says Steve Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy, in Washington, D.C.
"It's a big mistake. It's not just bad for government accountability, it's bad for security policy," Aftergood told United Press International.
The Defense Department spends $3 billion annually assuring secret papers are secured, a figure which includes physical protection, background checks and computer security. About 2 percent of that goes to declassification efforts.
"Declassification is an important component of an effective security program because it reduces the volume of information that has to be protected," allowing tighter security on those documents that are really important, Aftergood said.
Close to a billion pages are eligible for declassification review under Clinton's 1995 executive order 12958.
"New information is always being classified and added to the security system. It is vital it also be removed when necessary," Aftergood said.
The House and Senate report is expected to have the effect of reducing the number of documents declassified every year by about 75 percent. About 600 million pages have been released from federal government over the last three years. About half came from the Defense Department.
While the declassification spending limit has been dramatically lowered by the Armed Services Committees conferees, it is significantly higher than the House of Representatives originally wanted. The House had limited such spending to just $20 million a year in its version of the defense authorization bill.