[Intelforum] Secrecy News -- 04/20/11
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from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2011, Issue No. 37
April 20, 2011
Secrecy News Blog: http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/
** CIA DECLASSIFIES DOCUMENTS FROM WORLD WAR I
** SECRECY OVERWHELMS U.S. HISTORICAL RECORD
** PRIVACY PROTECTION ONLINE, AND MORE FROM CRS
CIA DECLASSIFIES DOCUMENTS FROM WORLD WAR I
The Central Intelligence Agency announced yesterday that it had
declassified six World War I-era documents describing the use of "invisible
ink" to convey secret messages. The CIA presented the new disclosure as an
indication that the declassification process was functioning properly, not
that it was dysfunctional.
"These documents remained classified for nearly a century until recent
advancements in technology made it possible to release them," CIA Director
Leon E. Panetta said in a news release. "When historical information is no
longer sensitive, we take seriously our responsibility to share it with the
"The CIA recognizes the importance of opening these historical documents
to the public," added Joseph Lambert, the Agency's Director of Information
Management Services. "In fiscal year 2010 alone, the Agency declassified
and released over 1.1 million pages of documents."
But there are a few things the CIA news release did not say.
These World War I documents remained classified not because they were
forgotten or overlooked, but because the CIA had vigorously opposed their
release. In response to a 1998 FOIA lawsuit brought by the James Madison
Project, the CIA argued that "some of the methods described in the
documents in question are still used by the CIA, and that third parties
inimical to the interests of the United States may not know which of the
[invisible ink] formulas are still considered reliable by the CIA and
approved for use by its agents." In 2002, a federal court accepted that
argument and ruled in favor of the CIA, affirming the secrecy of the
It is unknown what "recent advancements in technology," if any, might have
occurred between 2002 and the present to compel a complete reversal in
CIA's view on declassification of these records.
An alternate explanation for the new release is that the records were
subject to a pending mandatory declassification review (MDR) request by
attorneys Mark Zaid and Kel McClanahan. If CIA had continued to deny
disclosure of the documents, that request could have been referred to the
Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, which has been known to
view extreme secrecy claims with skepticism, and often to overturn them.
Also, if the CIA were to faithfully comply with the President's executive
order on classification -- which not all executive agencies do -- then it
would have been obliged to release these documents (and all other records
older than 75 years) by mid-2013 unless it requested and received special
permission from the Interagency Panel.
There is no glass that is small enough to be made "half full" by the CIA's
new disclosures. But the latest release may still be viewed charitably,
said William J. Bosanko, executive for agency services at the National
Archives and former director of the Information Security Oversight Office.
"I see this as a sign the sick system is starting to get well," Mr.
Bosanko said. He added cheerfully that there are "lots of chances to make
In the early 1990s, the massive backlog of classified historical attention
was just beginning to come to broad public attention. In those days, the
scale and persistence of official secrecy often elicited embarrassment from
"Obviously it seems absurd on the surface," said then-ISOO director Steven
Garfinkel, referring to the fact that a World War I document had just been
discovered to still be classified. That document, dated April 15, 1917,
had been "the oldest classified document" until it was finally declassified
and released in 1992 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request
from the Federation of American Scientists. It is a substantive, lively
and quite interesting account of "the intelligence system necessary in case
U.S. troops are ordered to the continent."
"Within the next decade there's going to be a need for a complete
re-examination of the issue of secrecy," Mr. Garfinkel told Tim Weiner of
Knight-Ridder Newspapers in December 1991. "The secrecy issue is a Cold War
issue and the world is changing."
SECRECY OVERWHELMS U.S. HISTORICAL RECORD
The Department of State is not fulfilling its obligation to produce a
"thorough, reliable, and accurate" account of U.S. foreign policy and there
is no foreseeable likelihood that it will do so, an official historical
advisory committee told the Secretary of State this month.
The Department's "Foreign Relations of the United States" (FRUS) series is
required to fully document the history of U.S. foreign policy no later than
30 years after the fact, but that's not happening.
"No progress has been made toward bringing the [FRUS] series into
compliance with the statutory requirement that volumes be published 30
years after the events they document," said the new annual report of the
Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation. "Indeed, the 6
volumes published in 2010 did not even meet the target set by the [State
Department Historian's] Office in 2009."
Among other obstacles, "the CIA's resistance to declassifying documents
that are already in the public domain presents a severe challenge," the
But CIA is not the only obstacle. "The Departments of Defense, Energy,
and Justice (including the FBI) have often been as [culpable] if not more
culpable than the CIA for the delays."
"The HAC [Historical Advisory Committee] is pessimistic about [the
Historian's Office's] prospects for meeting its statutory obligations if
its current performance continues," the new annual report concluded.
"The current records management system does not ensure those records of
historical significance are identified in such a way as to promote their
timely review for declassification and public release," wrote Adm. William
Studeman, former Acting Director of Central Intelligence, in the blog of
the Public Interest Declassification Board last week. "There is a great
danger that, unless changes are made, our nation will be unable to document
these historical decisions for future generations," he said.
Last week, the National Security Archive filed a FOIA lawsuit against the
Central Intelligence Agency seeking disclosure of an official CIA history
of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. "The CIA is holding history hostage,"
said the Archive's Peter Kornbluh.
PRIVACY PROTECTION ONLINE, AND MORE FROM CRS
Congress does not permit the public to gain direct access to reports of
the Congressional Research Service online. Some new or newly updated CRS
reports include the following.
"Privacy Protections for Personal Information Online," April 6, 2011:
"Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background and
Analysis," March 29, 2011:
"Iran Sanctions," April 4, 2011:
"Asylum and 'Credible Fear' Issues in U.S. Immigration Policy," April 6,
"The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States," March 31, 2011:
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the
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