Historians Expose Government Reclassification Effort

Historians in the News

On February 21, 2006, a front-page story in the New York Times reported that for nine years the CIA, U.S. military and intelligence, and other federal agencies have secretly been withdrawing from public access and at times reclassifying thousands of pages of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) records. NARA quickly responded to the story as well as the requests made several weeks earlier on behalf of independent historian Matthew Aid by the National Security Archive (NSA) in conjunction with the National Coalition for History, Public Citizen Litigation Group, and the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations. Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein immediately placed a moratorium on the program and initiated an audit of federal agency actions that are documented to have resulted in some 55,000 pages of records being removed from NARA's open shelves.

In late January, Matthew Aid, who is currently a visiting fellow at the National Security Archive, and representatives of several historical and government openness organizations met with NARA officials to discuss an ongoing reclassification program that Aid had discovered through his wide-ranging research in intelligence, military, and diplomatic records at NARA. Aid had found that the CIA and military agencies had reviewed millions of pages, at an unknown cost to taxpayers, in order to sequester documents from collections that had been open for years, but that the agency felt had been improperly released. Aid's discoveries confirmed what Steven Aftergood, editor of the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News, had long suspected was going on. In a Slate magazine article published in March 2005 (http://www.slate.com/id/2114963/), Aftergood wrote that he believed that "in the late 1990s government agencies took to scrubbing public records at the National Archives and elsewhere, pulling untold thousands of public records for ‘review' and possible reclassification." At the time, however, a NARA official challenged the accuracy of Aftergood's claim. According to informed sources, the reclassification activity began as Aftergood had contended—late in the 1990s—but its scope widened during the Bush administration and the survey of records is scheduled to continue until 2007....

Read entire article at Bruce Craig in AHA Perspectives (April 2006)

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