from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2008, Issue No. 68
July 14, 2008
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
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- FOREIGN RELATIONS SERIES STILL FAILS TO MEET LEGAL DEADLINE
- CONTROLLED UNCLASSIFIED INFO MAY BE CLASSIFIED, US-CZECH DOC SAYS
- COMPUTING AT LOS ALAMOS IN THE 1940S AND 1950S
FOREIGN RELATIONS SERIES STILL FAILS TO MEET LEGAL DEADLINE
The "Foreign Relations of the United States" (FRUS) series, which is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy, remains unlikely to meet the legal requirement that it be published no later than 30 years after the events that it describes, an official advisory committee has told the Secretary of State.
"Despite many and repeated assurances that this problem would be addressed by 2010, the committee is now very skeptical that the Office of the Historian will succeed in meeting the 30-year requirement for the Foreign Relations series at any time within the next decade," the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation wrote in its new annual report.
Compliance with the 30 year deadline is not optional; it is a binding legal requirement. "The Secretary of State shall ensure that the FRUS series shall be published not more than 30 years after the events recorded," according to a statute enacted in 1991.
But instead of advancing towards that goal, FRUS seems to be retreating further and further away from it. The FRUS series' sparse publication record in 2007 "was a considerable disappointment, and does not bring with it much encouragement for the future," the committee wrote in its report to the Secretary of State.
"Last year the committee reported that 'it is reasonable' to be optimistic that the series would be in compliance with the law by the end of 2010," the committee noted. "We no longer have any reason to be optimistic, and are frankly very pessimistic."
The annual report, dated May 19, 2008, will appear in the September 2008 issue of Perspectives on History, a publication of the American Historical Association (www.historians.org). An advance copy is available here:
"The committee must really be concerned for the report to be so explicit and emphatic," one former State Department official told Secrecy News.
In a delicate allusion to reports of morale problems in the Office of the Historian and the ensuing resignations of professional staff, the Advisory Committee strongly recommended that State Department Human Resources personnel "conduct mandatory exit interviews to determine the principal reasons behind the departure of skilled researchers."
The committee also expressed dismay at plans to provide reduced coverage of U.S. policy during the Reagan Administration:
"The committee is concerned that despite a collection of 8.5 million classified pages in the Reagan Library, compared with the Nixon years' 2.5 million pages, the Office plans substantially fewer volumes of the FRUS series."
"The publication of the Foreign Relations series stands as a symbol of commitment to openness and accountability," the Advisory Committee report affirmed.
Regrettably, with its persistent violation of mandatory publication requirements and its diminishing productivity, the Foreign Relations series may indeed be a fitting symbol of the current state of openness and accountability.
CONTROLLED UNCLASSIFIED INFO MAY BE CLASSIFIED, US-CZECH DOC SAYS
Government agencies may redesignate "controlled unclassified information" (CUI) as classified information in order to prevent its disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, according to an agreement signed last week between the United States and the Czech Republic.
The July 8 agreement on establishment of a U.S. missile defense radar in the Czech Republic devotes an entire section (Article XII) to "controlled unclassified information," which is defined as "unclassified information to which access or distribution limitations have been applied in accordance with applicable national laws."
The new agreement surprisingly presents national security classification as an option when facing involuntary disclosure of CUI under the Freedom of Information Act:
"Each Party shall take all lawful steps, which may include national classification, to keep controlled unclassified information free from further disclosure (including requests under any applicable domestic legislation)..., unless the originating Party consents to such disclosure."
While there is an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for "properly classified" information, there is no such exemption for CUI. (According to a May 7 White House policy statement, "CUI markings may inform but do not control the decision of whether to disclose or release the information to the public, such as in response to a request made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.")
Classification of CUI -- which by definition is information that does not meet the standards for classification -- in order to evade the requirements of the FOIA would be a violation of official classification policy, as set forth in the president's executive order.
Coincidentally or by design, the text of the new Agreement between the U.S. and the Czech Republic has not been made available on any publicly accessible U.S. government web site, though the State Department issued a July 10 Fact Sheet about it. But it was published in the Czech Republic and a copy is available here:
COMPUTING AT LOS ALAMOS IN THE 1940S AND 1950S
Last week, in response to a request from Secrecy News for a copy of a thirty year old history of computer development at Los Alamos in the 1940s and 1950s, a reference librarian at Los Alamos National Laboratory apologetically explained that she could not release the requested document.
"We are sorry but due to a mandate from NNSA to the Laboratory and Research Library policies, we are unable to provide technical reports until further notice," the librarian wrote. You want information from the Library? Don't be silly!
Fortunately, a copy of the document, which was not otherwise available online, was obtained independently and it has been added to our Los Alamos document collection.
Among other curiosities, the report describes work on an early chess-playing program for the MANIAC computer in the 1950s:
"Because of the slow speed of MANIAC (about 10,000 instructions per second) we had to restrict play to a 6 by 6 board, removing the bishops and their pawns. Even then, moves averaged about 10 minutes for a two-move look-ahead strategy."
See "Computing at LASL in the 1940s and 1950s" by Roger B. Lazarus, et al, report number LA-6943-H, May 1978:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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