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For 7 Years, A Secret Program to Reclassify Documents

by TChris

Recoiling from the open government philosophy of the Clinton administration, intelligence agencies have reclassified more than 55,000 documents since 1999 that had previously been declassified and, in some cases, published by the State Department.

But because the reclassification program is itself shrouded in secrecy -- governed by a still-classified memorandum that prohibits the National Archives even from saying which agencies are involved -- it continued virtually without outside notice until December.

Historians worry that the reclassification program will prevent them from accessing materials once available at presidential libraries and the National Archives. Some reclassification decisions may be based on the historian's nemesis: "an old bureaucratic reflex: to cover up embarrassments, even if they occurred a half-century ago." Some historians see "a marked trend toward greater secrecy under the Bush administration, which has increased the pace of classifying documents, slowed declassification and discouraged the release of some material under the Freedom of Information Act."

Reclassifying documents that scholars have already reviewed is pointless.

"It doesn't make sense to create a category of documents that are classified but that everyone already has," said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of the National Security Archive, a research group at George Washington University. "These documents were on open shelves for years."

Get your reclassified documents here:

The group plans to post Mr. Aid's reclassified documents and his account of the secret program on its Web site, www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv, on Tuesday.

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  • Re: For 7 Years, A Secret Program to Reclassify Do (none / 0) (#1)
    by john horse on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 03:53:37 AM EST
    You have to wonder why an administration that claims it believes in tranparency wants to reclassify even documents that have no security value. The only explanation is that the Bush administration does not really believe in transparency because that would involve accountability. By the way, did anyone find their explanation of the reclassification program a bit Orwelian?
    The document removals have not been reported to the Information Security Oversight Office, as the law has required for formal reclassifications since 2003. . . . The intelligence agencies take the position that the reclassified documents were never properly declassified, even though they were reviewed, stamped "declassified," freely given to researchers and even published, he said. Thus, the agencies argue, the documents remain classified -- and pulling them from public access is not really reclassification.


    I trust you'll have something to add to what I wrote about the denial of Maher Arar's lawsuit. I have no doubt you see it as incredibly significant (and disheartening).

    It seems like they are covering up their arses of every bad idea or thing that didn't go right, but even I can not see the need to reclassify a document by the CIA that said the chinese wouldn't get involved in Korea in 1950 and two weeks later they did, that they were embarrassed to think intelligent agencies screw up. My favourite was the 1948 plan to use balloons to drop propoganda leaflets on Soviet Russia, so that they would reject communism and open up to the west. Its just not that important to make a secret.

    Recoiling from the open government philosophy of the Clinton administration, Given that this started in 1999, should this read Recoiling from its own "open government philosophy", the Clinton Administration began reclassifying previously available documents? I wonder what it was that caused Bill, Al, and Hillary to make this decision, and what specific documents they deemed worthy of re-classification. I'm not surprised that the Bushies have continued the program, secretive bunch that they are, especially when they have been handed the cover of it being a program started under Bubba, but I do wonder what it was that changed Bill's mind.

    Re: For 7 Years, A Secret Program to Reclassify Do (none / 0) (#5)
    by Sailor on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 11:24:59 AM EST
    Given that this started in 1999, should this read Recoiling from its own "open government philosophy", the Clinton Administration began reclassifying previously available documents? I wonder what it was that caused Bill, Al, and Hillary to make this decision, and what specific documents they deemed worthy of re-classification.
    Do you ever actually read the articles or just jump on the 'clinton did it' bandwagon? From the article:
    The restoration of classified status to more than 55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999, when the Central Intelligence Agency and five other agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release of sensitive information after a 1995 declassification order signed by President Bill Clinton. It accelerated after the Bush administration took office and especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to archives records. [...] National Archives officials said the program had revoked access to 9,500 documents, more than 8,000 of them since President Bush took office.


    Re: For 7 Years, A Secret Program to Reclassify Do (none / 0) (#6)
    by swingvote on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 11:44:41 AM EST
    The restoration of classified status to more than 55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999, Sailor, Are you suggesting that the CIA did this in 1999 against Clinton's wishes? If so, why do you and others assume that everything that is being done now is being done with Bush's approval? You can't have it both ways. If Clinton felt strongly enough about this, he could have, and should have, stopped it. That was his job, after all. But once again you simply want to excuse the same behavior by Democrats that you find so infuriating when it's committed by Republicans. No surprise there.

    Re: For 7 Years, A Secret Program to Reclassify Do (none / 0) (#7)
    by Sailor on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 12:23:09 PM EST
    Are you suggesting that the CIA did this in 1999 against Clinton's wishes?
    Yes. Clinton:
    the CIA and five other agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release of sensitive information after a 1995 declassification order signed by President Bill Clinton
    If so, why do you and others assume that everything that is being done now is being done with Bush's approval?
    Bush:
    The Bush administration has put a much tighter lid than recent presidents on government proceedings and the public release of information, exhibiting a penchant for secrecy that has been striking to historians, legal experts and lawmakers of both parties.
    Clinton had a history of declassifying docs. Bush has a history of extreme secretiveness.

    Re: For 7 Years, A Secret Program to Reclassify Do (none / 0) (#8)
    by scarshapedstar on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 01:02:37 PM EST
    Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and Bush supporters want all of us to die of gangrene. Thanks!