[Intelforum] Secrecy News -- 02/22/10
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from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2010, Issue No. 15
February 22, 2010
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
** MOVING BEYOND "A DECLASSIFICATION SYSTEM THAT DOES NOT WORK"
** SOME BELATED ANSWERS ON ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE
** FINANCIAL TURMOIL, AID TO PAKISTAN, AND MORE FROM CRS
MOVING BEYOND "A DECLASSIFICATION SYSTEM THAT DOES NOT WORK"
Executive branch agencies have spent more than a billion dollars on
declassification of government records in recent years, but the results
have been unsatisfactory, requiring a change in declassification policy
"Between 1997 and 2007 the Federal Government acknowledges spending $1.343
billion on declassification," reported Michael J. Kurtz, Assistant
Archivist at the National Archives, in a newly disclosed briefing. "This
does not include the monies spent by the Intelligence Community on
declassification," an amount that is considered classified.
Despite the enormous expenditure of money, there is a large and growing
backlog of records awaiting declassification.
"The Federal government has 408 million pages of historical records that
are 25 years old and older at the National Archives and Records
Administration that are still classified and an estimated 1.24 billion
pages of historical records in agency custody which need to be reviewed
and declassified over the next 25 years," Mr. Kurtz said.
"Without reform in policy and process," he said, "billions of dollars will
be spent perpetuating a declassification system that does not work, while
the backlog of records awaiting processing for the open shelves will
continue to grow."
Mr. Kurtz spoke at a November 2009 government conference on records
management. Slides from his presentation were released earlier this
Having characterized the problem, Mr. Kurtz went on to describe NARA's
conception of the solution -- a National Declassification Center. The
Center, he said, will "enable efficient and effective agency review" while
improving quality control and productivity. The Center was in fact
established by President Obama's executive order 13526 on December 29,
2009 and was announced by the National Archivist on December 30, 2009. It
began initial operations last month.
>From an outside perspective, the declassification challenge goes at least
one level deeper than what Mr. Kurtz described in his briefing. The
problem is not simply one of inefficiency or a lack of interagency
coordination. It is that agencies are adhering to erroneous
classification policies that obstruct and defeat the declassification
One convenient example of such a classification error is the secrecy of
Intelligence Community declassification costs, as noted by Mr. Kurtz. Any
government employee who seriously believes that the disclosure of
declassification spending by intelligence agencies could cause "damage to
the national security" needs to be reassigned to a non-national security
function. No more public money should be wasted to enforce such obvious
The Fundamental Classification Guidance Review prescribed in executive
order 13526 (sec. 1.9), which requires a top to bottom "scrub" of all
agency classification policies over the next two years, may help to
streamline the declassification process by eliminating these kinds of
errors in classification judgment.
SOME BELATED ANSWERS ON ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE
The Justice Department has released its responses to questions originally
posed by the House Judiciary Committee in 2007 about the Department's
views on the legal framework governing electronic surveillance under the
amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In questions for the record from a September 18, 2007 hearing, House
Committee members probed the potential use of electronic surveillance
against U.S. persons, the exclusivity of the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act, the claimed scope of independent presidential authority,
and the basis for mandating telecommunication carrier immunity.
"If the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) was perfectly legal
as has been claimed, why would companies who cooperated in it need
immunity?" the Committee asked. (To protect classified information, among
other reasons, the Department responded.) "Is the President free to
disregard any provisions of FISA with which he disagrees?" (No, not
exactly.) "If an individual in the United States is suspected of working
in collusion with persons outside the United States--such that an
investigation of one is in effect the investigation of the other--under
what circumstances, generally, would you use criminal or other FISA
wiretaps?" (Targeting of persons in the United States can only be done
under FISA procedures.)
The Committee hearing volume was published in June 2008 without the
Justice Department's answers to these questions, because they were
provided to Congress too late to be included in the published record. A
copy of the answers was released last week under the Freedom of
FINANCIAL TURMOIL, AID TO PAKISTAN, AND MORE FROM CRS
New reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not been
made readily available to the public include the following.
"Government Interventions in Response to Financial Turmoil," February 1,
"International Food Aid Programs: Background and Issues," February 3,
"Architect of the Capitol: Appointment Process and Current Legislation,"
February 16, 2010:
"Ozone Air Quality Standards: EPA's Proposed January 2010 Revisions,"
February 1, 2010:
"The 2009 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Meetings and U.S. Trade
Policy in Asia," February 4, 2010:
"Direct Overt U.S. Aid and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan,
FY2002-FY2011," February 16, 2010:
"Paraguay: Political and Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations," February
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the
Federation of American Scientists.
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