Yesterday, the National Security Archive (NSA) released documents that recounted the abuses committed by the Colombian Army. According to the NSA article, these documents describe how the Colombian military officers collaborated with the drug-trafficking paramilitary groups and used death squad tactics to tackle guerrillas.
Secret Bush Administration Torture Memo Released Today In Response To ACLU Lawsuit (4/1/2008) American Civil Liberties Union. "A secret memo authored by the Department of Justice (DOJ) asserting that President Bush has unlimited power to order brutal interrogations to extract information from detainees was declassified today as a result of an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The memo, written by John Yoo, then a deputy at the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), was sent to the Defense Department in March 2003."
- Memorandum for William J. Haynes II, General Counsel of the Department of Defense, Re: Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States, by John Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel. March 14, 2003. Declassify under authority of Executive Order 1958 By Acting General Counsel, Department of Defense By Daniel 1. Dell'Orto, 31 March 2008.
- Memo: Laws Didn't Apply to Interrogators "Justice Dept. Official in 2003 Said President's Wartime Authority Trumped Many Statutes" By Dan Eggen and Josh White Washington Post. Wednesday, April 2, 2008; Page A01.
- ’03 U.S. Memo Approved Harsh Interrogations, By MARK MAZZETTI, New York Times, April 2, 2008.
Last year, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an advisory committee established by Congress, issued a report to the President, Improving Declassification. (See also: Improving Declassification, 2008-01-13).
On March 17, 2008, the PIDB heard public comments on its report. For a report on those comments and links to many of the comments, see:
- PIDB Receives Public Comment on "Improving Declassification" Report National Coalition for History, March 19, 2008.
Among the comments were concerns that funding would ultimately be the biggest stumbling block to realizing the recommendations and that too many documents are classified in the first place, which contributes to the overload of the declassification system. Tom Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University suggested that the PIDB recommendations should be transformed into a draft executive order for immediate consideration by the incoming president. Mark Zaid, Executive Director of the James Madison Project encouraged the PIDB to pursue declassification of records of Congress, and classified judicial records.
Representing the American Historical Association (AHA), Dr. Brian Martin, President and Chief Operating Officer, of History Associates, Inc. noted that the value of audio, video and digital media value may increase over time and urged The National Archives (NARA) to avoid thinking that "if we have it on paper, we don't need to preserve it in another format."
Dr. Patrice McDermott, Director of Open-The-Government.Org many in the public interest community fear that electronic records, including historically significant records, are being lost or destroyed.
With regard to "sensitive but unclassified" documents, she expressed a need for a clear review process of these unlimited control markings, rather than linking them to declassification review after 25 years and treating them as "super-classified. As previous witnesses said, she agreed that much of the problem is caused by massive over-classification at the front end of the process
In the spirit of Sunshine Week, the National Archives announced the opening of 1.3 million pages of Cold War era Central Intelligence Agency records, dating from 1947 to 1977. The documents are being released as “a part of the National Declassification Initiative program announced by the Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein in April 2006.”
I'm not sure how many of these are available as digital copies, but nevertheless, these records may help some of my student patrons with their papers on the "Red Scare" and the Cold War (every semester I have at least five students working on some aspect of this topic!).
The next president should open up the Bush Administration's record, By Steven Aftergood, Nieman Watchdog February 07, 2008
The next President will have the authority to declassify and disclose any and all records that reflect the activities of executive branch agencies. Although internal White House records that document the activities of the outgoing President and his personal advisers will be exempt from disclosure for a dozen years or so, every Bush Administration decision that was actually translated into policy will have left a documentary trail in one or more of the agencies, and all such records could be disclosed at the discretion of the next President.
The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an advisory committee established by Congress to "promote the fullest possible public access to a thorough, accurate, and reliable documentary record of significant U.S. national security decisions and activities" has released a report with recommendations on improving declassification.
- Improving Declassification, A Report To The President From The Public Interest Declassification Board December 2007.
What can be put off is put off; what can go to the end of the queue goes to the end of the queue....
What appears to be missing is a common understanding of the public interest and a common approach to effectuating it....
The tasks ahead remain daunting, and the resources needed to meet existing deadlines and workloads will never be sufficient and are under constant threat of reduction.
- Panel Urges More Openness, Less Secrecy, by Pete Yost, Associated Press, Jan 9, 2008.
Challenging Cheney. Newsweek Web Exclusive (Updated: 12:57 PM ET Dec 24, 2007) By Michael Isikoff.
J. William Leonard learned the hard way the perils of questioning Vice President Dick Cheney. The veteran National Archives official challenged claims by the Office of Vice President (OVP) to be exempt from federal rules governing classified information. His efforts touched off a firestorm--and a counter-strike by Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington, who tried to wipe out Leonard's job....
Now, Leonard is quitting as director of the Archives' Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO)--the unit that monitors the handling of government secrets. He tells NEWSWEEK that his fight with Cheney's office was a "contributing" factor in his decision to retire after 34 years of government service.
..."The global struggle that we're engaged in today is more than anything else is an ideological struggle. And in my mind....that calls for greater transparency, not less transparency."
Proving that everything old is new again in terms of information restriction, I came across this title from my federal depository's shelves:
Hearing on sensitive but not classified information : Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Thursday, May 28, 1987
by United States. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science.
I thought this part of the introduction was interesting reading:
The difference of opinion was over the means to protect this information. In general, the library and information science communities felt that sensitive material should be classified in order to relieve these communities of the burden of limiting access to information and determining which information should not be made available to foreign nationals or governments.
In general, the government and the defense establishment would prefer that the library and information communities exercise a degree of judgement in releasing sensitive data to foreign nationals in order to slow up the flow of valuable technological and other information to the East Bloc. Classifying much of this information would take time and expense for all concerned, as well as limiting the flow of sensitive information to all Americans.
In my view the information flowing to the Eastern Bloc couldn't have been that useful since the Warsaw Pact imploded barely two years after this hearing.
In this hearing, Sandra K. Peterson of Yale University represented the ALA Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT). Her testimony begins on page 41 of the hearing proceedings.
Time constraints keep me from giving you most of Ms. Peterson's testimony, but a key point was that the government's proposed definition of "Sensitive but unclassified" was so broad that GODORT believed "Much of the information that the federal government collects compiles, produces, publishes and disseminates falls within these definitions."
Towards the end of her prepared testimony, Ms. Peterson emphasized GODORT's basic position which I believe they hold today. I know we do at FGI:
In summary, GODORT believes that unclassified government information of all formats should be accessible by the American public.
Now if we could just make the SBU concept go away. Seems like there is more work to do.
The CIA will declassify hundreds of pages of long-secret records detailing some of the intelligence agency's worst illegal abuses -- the so-called "family jewels" documenting a quarter-century of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying, kidnapping and infiltration of leftist groups from the 1950s to the 1970s, CIA Director Michael Hayden said Thursday.
The documents, to be publicly released next week, also include accounts of break-ins and theft, the agency's opening of private mail to and from China and the Soviet Union, wiretaps and surveillance of journalists, and a series of "unwitting" tests on U.S. civilians, including the use of drugs. more...
I came across a recently declassified document from October, 2003 called Information Operations Roadmap authored by Donald Rumsfeld from Bryan Alexander's blog. The document is attached.