Back Channels: Intelligence Community
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
The federal government declassified more than 193 million pages of historical documents in fiscal 1998, bringing the total to 593 million since President Clinton ordered automatic declassification of most historic documents in 1995, according to a report this week by the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO).
The ISOO, established in 1978 to oversee the government's security classification system, called the automatic declassification of historic documents after 25 years "a radical departure from the secrecy policies of the past."
But Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, said the program has been damaged by Congress and believes far fewer documents have been declassified in fiscal 1999, which ended Sept. 30.
"It's a sad end to a terrifically successful declassification program," Aftergood said. "But nobody understands what's happened."
Aftergood said Congress crippled the program a year ago when it added a provision to the fiscal 1999 defense authorization bill requiring that agencies engage in page-by-page declassification to ensure that historic records did not contain nuclear weapons secrets.
If that were not enough, Aftergood said, Congress has added provisions in the fiscal 2000 defense authorization bill, which Clinton signed Tuesday, requiring page-by-page review of all 593 million documents already declassified and limiting the amount of money the Pentagon can spend on declassification to $51 million.
The ISOO report does not refer to these new legal provisions but noted that Congress's initial requirement for page-by-page review "is likely to impede the ability of executive branch agencies to meet interim targets and may diminish the numbers of older historically valuable documents declassified in the coming years."
Nonetheless, Steven Garfinkel, the ISOO's director, said Aftergood overstates the impact of the new congressional provisions. Most departments already were doing page-by-page reviews before Congress acted, he said, and $51 million should be enough to fund the Pentagon's most important declassification initiatives.
The CIA, meanwhile, revealed that it had declassified 3 million pages of documents in fiscal 1999, 2 million more than the period covered in the ISOO report, sending 2,000 boxes in three tractor-trailer trucks to the National Archives in College Park. The information included original negatives from the agency's collection of worldwide ground photography, early Directorate of Operations intelligence reports and intelligence records from the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson presidential libraries.
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