Department of HistoryMark Bradley
January 6, 2000
Office of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Russell Office Building, Room 464
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Mr. Bradley,
I am an historian who has spent 20 frustrating years in the endless effort to declassify historical documents. I have been a member of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee and as one of the five members of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) I participated in one of the open meetings of the Moynihan Commission. I also had a personal meeting with Senator Moynihan to discuss some of his ideas. Therefore, I was quite pleased to learn that the Senator had submitted a bill for declassification.
Like my fellow historians, I am a proponent of systematic declassification because it places a document in the context of other events and policy decisions, but I understand why Senator Moynihan chose the different route to declassification stated in the Public Interest Declassification Act. On the surface, it appears to promise the release of more documents more quickly than the systematic system.
From my early experience as an outsider and my recent one as an insider (with the highest security clearance), I have grave misgivings about the proposed act as it is now written. I frankly do not believe that it can achieve the goal of rapidly declassifying categories of records to satisfy public interest.
For example, the Declassification Board has no real power. It is completely dependent upon the cooperation of the agencies. Given past performance, it is highly unrealistic to assume that agencies, particularly Defense and the CIA, will be completely forthcoming or that the Archives will ever question agency decisions. Under the JFK Act agencies released some heavily redacted records that the Review Board later released in full. In addition, an empowered ARRB staff found many important records that the agencies "overlooked." Agency declassification of selected, heavily redacted records will not serve the public interest. It will only breed more suspicion.
I will be happy to discuss with you these and other concerns before the bill is in final form. Historians have always been vocal supporters of declassification and we will want to continue to work with the Congress for the best possible solution to its inherent problems.
cc: Thomas Newcomb
Anna K. Nelson
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence