The National Security Archive has published hundreds of examples over the years of “dubious secrets” where U.S. government censors blacked out documents that had already been released in full – or redacted entirely different parts of the same document at different times. This surprisingly common occurrence throws into relief how subjective the classification process is and how often agency declassifiers opt for the most sweeping rulings that wind up denying the public reasonable access to their government’s information.
The release of the redacted Mueller report today focuses new public attention on the systemic problem of over-classification and the routine overuse of exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act that are supposed to be reserved for protecting true secrets. (See for instance this week’s AP story in the Washington Post and the feature on PRI's "The World.")
Included in today’s posting is a famous precursor of the Mueller document – the outside consultant’s report from 2002 on racial discrimination within the Justice Department, which Justice’s own experts on information policy redacted in completely unjustified ways, a fact that could be confirmed only after the accidental removal of the electronic veils over deleted portions of the document.