Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Secret Agreement Reveals Covert Program to Hide Reclassification from Public

Washington D.C., 11 April 2006 - The National Archives and Records Administration secretly agreed to a covert effort, led by the Air Force, the CIA, and other still-hidden intelligence entities, to remove open-shelf archival records and reclassify them while disguising the results so that researchers would not complain, according to a previously secret Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The secret agreement, made between the Air Force and the National Archives, was declassified pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive and posted on the NARA website yesterday.

The heavily excised MOU, signed by assistant archivist Michael Kurtz in March 2002, reveals that the National Archives agreed that the existence of the program was to be kept secret as long as possible: "it is in the interests of both [excised] and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to avoid the attention and researcher complaints that may arise from removing material that has already been publicly available," states the MOU. NARA agreed that the withdrawal sheets indicating the removal of documents would conceal any reference to the program and "any reason for the withholding of documents."

NARA also agreed to conceal the identities of the intelligence personnel who were reviewing and removing the documents, according to the agreement, including from NARA's own staff. "NARA will not disclose the true reason for the presence of [deleted agency] AFDO [deleted] personnel at the Archives, to include disclosure to persons within NARA who do not have a validated need-to-know."


It should be noted that this program began under the Clinton administration, but was carried out by Bush. The 1995 version of EXECUTIVE ORDER 12958 states under Section 1.8 (c):

Information may not be reclassified after it has been declassified and released to the public under proper authority.

It could be argued that certain documents less than 25 years old may be exempt from the reclassification guidline mentioned above given certain criteria identified in Section 1.6 (c) of the 1995 Order shown below:

An original classification authority may extend the duration of classification or reclassify specific information for successive periods not to exceed 10 years at a time if such action is consistent with the standards and procedures established under this order. This provision does not apply to information contained in records that are more than 25 years old and have been determined to have permanent historical value under title 44, United States Code.

In 2003, Bush amended EXECUTIVE ORDER 12958 to revise certain sections including those on reclassification of documents previous released to the public. For example, Section 1.7 (c1)(c2)(c3) replaces Section 1.8 (c) of the original Order:

(c) Information may be reclassified after declassification and release to the public under proper authority only in accordance with the following conditions:

(1) the reclassification action is taken under the personal authority of the agency head or deputy agency head, who determines in writing that the reclassification of the information is necessary in the interest of the national security;
(2) the information may be reasonably recovered; and
(3) the reclassification action is reported promptly to the Director of the Information Security Oversight Office.

Interestingly enough, it would appear that a violation of EXECUTIVE ORDER 12958, as amended, has occurred.

Sec. 1.7. Classification Prohibitions and Limitations. (a) In no case shall information be classified in order to:
(1) conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;
(2) prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency;
(3) restrain competition; or
(4) prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security.

I would think that some of the agencies involved in the program to reclassify decades old documents are either attempting to prevent embarrassment, or conceal violations of law, inefficiency and/or administrative error, thus, they are in violation of the Order. You will probably hear (if Bush even broaches the topic) that it is in the interest of national security. To that I say, "Bull." Most likely, Bush is cleaning up the paper trail that would implicate his family in questionable, if not illegal, activity...


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