CIA Declassification Lite

As you might know, the Central Intelligence Agency has announced plans to significantly cut back it’s proactive declassification program. Instead of performing manual redaction on historical records, they’re going to switch to a pass/fail system, either releasing records in their entirety, or not at all. This is not as big of a deal as it seems, because the Agency has long gamed the system and exploited declassification guidelines to their perceived advantage in ways that left released documents inherently suspect.

Not surprisingly, this move is itself little more than yet another effort to abuse the review and declassification system. As I’ve written about before, voluntary disclosure is subject only to the whims of the agency in question, with none of the administrative mechanisms of the Freedom of Information Act. The CIA in recent years has reviewed and released in one form or another a staggering volume of records using the “old system” of manual, word-by-word review and redaction. Under the new pass/fail system, they may actually be able to increase the sheer number of documents released, but I strongly suspect the interest, and historical importance, of what gets released – likely all milquetoast administrative stuff – is going to plummet.

I have another concern about the program, as well. Proactive, agency-initiated disclosure can be, and is, an end-run around the FOIA. Think of it as a loophole, if you will. Theoretically, the CIA could “review” a potentially embarrassing document, redact ninety percent or more of it – any part of it, for any reason (or no reason) whatsoever – and “release” the rest, on their own initiative. That document, having now been “made public” and “published”, could not be requested by a researcher under the FOIA. No appeal procedures, no obligation on the agency’s part to justify its redactions, no nothing. My worry is that the CIA will start (ab)using the new review procedure in a similar way – say, claiming that records “not releasable” under the pass/fail review process have been “reviewed” and are not releasable under the FOIA as well.

I have no way of knowing whether this is happening, or going to happen – but the “family jewels” release earlier this year demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt the CIA’s more-than-willingness to, quite frankly, cheat the system by abusing voluntary disclosure in side-stepping the administrative and legal safeguards of the Freedom of Information Act. What they’ve done once, I see no reason to doubt they’ll do again…

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General, History | on December 3rd, 2007| Comments Off on CIA Declassification Lite

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