31 July 1998
Thanks to DL


   The Washington Post, July 31, 1998

   Defense Bill Provision Could Curb Declassification
   By George Lardner Jr.
   Washington Post Staff Writer
   Friday, July 31, 1998; Page A23
   Tucked into the defense authorization bill now in a Senate-House
   conference is a provision that experts say would "essentially gut"
   President Clinton's 1995 order calling for the automatic
   declassification of old government secrets.
   Introduced on behalf of the Department of Energy, it would require all
   federal agencies to conduct a painstaking inspection of "all" record
   collections more than 25 years old to find out if they contain any
   pages stamped for nuclear secrets. If they do, the agencies would then
   have to set aside the entire collections for review by Energy.
   Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin warned in a letter to
   the White House earlier this month that the provision would "bring
   cost-effective declassification to a halt and essentially gut"
   Clinton's executive order.
   Steven Garfinkel, director of the government's Information Security
   Oversight Office, added in an interview that the costs of complying
   with such a provision would be "monstrous," causing perhaps endless
   delay in the bureaucracy's response to a decree widely hailed when it
   was signed as the most significant step in reducing government secrecy
   since the start of the Cold War.
   As envisioned by the 1995 decree, all historically valuable,
   classified records more than 25 years old would be automatically
   declassified by 2000. The plan provided for exemptions for the most
   sensitive information, such as secrets "that would assist in the
   development or use of weapons of mass destruction," but even these
   were to undergo a document-by-document review aiming at
   declassification by a certain date.
   According to Garfinkel, who oversees the effort, of the 10 major
   agencies with large amounts of classified information, only one, the
   Air Force, "probably" will meet the deadline. Many of the other
   agencies, such as the CIA, are waiting for Clinton to give them formal
   exemptions from the automatic declassification rule and, officials
   say, are acting as though they have already been granted.
   The CIA, anticipating White House approval, has embarked on a
   page-by-page review of 40 million to 60 million pages and intends to
   keep even more of its holdings, perhaps 105 million pages, secret
   forever. The FBI has already won a blanket exemption for its files.
   The Energy Department in 1996 won a law giving it an exemption for its
   Even so, several senators contend that some highly classified
   material, known in the parlance of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act as RD
   (Restricted Data) and FRD (Formerly Restricted Data), "has been
   improperly released" in the process of setting aside old records for
   automatic declassification and "much more is in danger of improper
   release in the near future."
   RD concerns the design and development of nuclear weapons and naval
   nuclear reactors; FRD deals with the use of nuclear weapons, such as
   their location and yields.
   "We do not contend that the individuals declassifying the information
   desire to do harm to the national security of the United States,"
   Sens. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.) and Jon Kyl
   (R-Ariz.) said this week in a letter to White House national security
   adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger. Shelby is chairman of the Senate
   intelligence committee, Smith heads the Armed Services subcommittee on
   strategic forces and Kyl is chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on
   technology, terrorism and government information.
   "However," they wrote, "it appears that, in a frenzied attempt to meet
   the deadline mandated by [the executive order], officials are not
   taking proper care to ensure that Restricted Data and Formerly
   Restricted Data that may be commingled with other classified
   information is not being improperly released or scheduled for
   automatic declassification."
   The Energy Department has been at odds with historians for some time
   over the slow pace at which it has released documents and, since 1996,
   over the exemption it won to the presidential order.
   "This prohibits any bulk declassification of Department of Energy
   records and severely undermines the reforms of the new executive
   order," Page Putnam Miller, director of the National Coordinating
   Committee for the Promotion of History, said of the 1996 measure.
   Reaching further, officials at Energy embarked on surveys at other
   government agencies, including the National Archives and some of its
   presidential libraries. In a letter to the Office of Management and
   Budget last week, Kenneth E. Baker, deputy director of Energy's Office
   of Nonproliferation, depicted the results as alarming.
   The surveys, he said, covered files "supposedly containing only NSI
   [National Security Information] marked 'Top Secret,' 'Secret,' or
   'Confidential' and found Restricted Data and Formerly Restricted Data
   as well." Some of the records, Baker said, have been scheduled for
   bulk declassification.
   Speaking of this information as having been "compromised" although it
   is not clear whether it has been made public yet, Baker warned:
   "Some of the compromised information found in these file series
   involved design information of special value to proliferants seeking
   to weaponize their nuclear devices, such as India and Pakistan. The
   last thing the U.S. Government should do is make it easier for
   potential weapons protagonists to have access to information to design
   their delivery systems and nuclear weapons in order to attack each
   Without hearings or debate, the Senate last month approved a
   Kyl-sponsored amendment requiring the Archives and every other agency
   in the government to conduct a page-by-page review of all old records

   "prior to declassification" to see if they contained any pages with RD
   or FRD markings. The collections that contained even one page would
   have to be set aside for inspection by Energy.
   Saying his agency was "vehemently" opposed to the measure, Carlin
   warned that it would not only "completely nullify" Clinton's order but
   also be the most "retrogressive" rule ever laid down since
   declassification efforts began under President Richard M. Nixon in
   He said there was "no evidence that declassification has had any
   effect on the proliferation of nuclear weapons" over the past 36
   Within the Archives alone, Carlin said, "there are over 495 million
   pages that would require page-by-page examination" while still more
   will be pouring in at a prodigious rate. He said it would be "a waste
   of time and resources" to screen all these files "for the possible
   misfiled document" and recommended instead a survey to determine what
   collections or "file series" were likely to contain nuclear data. Only
   these would need to be inspected page-by-page.
   The administration had tentatively decided to oppose Energy's bid,
   according to correspondence obtained by The Washington Post, but a
   spokeswoman at OMB, Linda Ricci, said yesterday that officials there
   were still mulling over the question. Senate-House conferees,
   meanwhile, may have already accepted Kyl's amendment and moved on to
   other sections of the defense bill.
   Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a
   civil liberties advocacy group, charged that both Energy and now
   Congress "are focusing on scare stories" instead of allocating "the
   necessary resources to determine where truly sensitive Restricted Data
   might be located."
   "It's not true that it would be like looking for a needle in a
   haystack," she said. "If you look at the files of the Office of the
   Secretary of Defense, for instance, they're organized by subject, and
   by year. The files relating to Latin America, the files relating to
   Africa don't have Restricted Data in them."
   Garfinkel said automatic or bulk declassification of many World War II
   records has actually been taking place since 1972. "That includes the
   Manhattan Project [which developed the atomic bomb]. It hasn't
   resulted in any horror stories of proliferation or how to make a
   Energy Department officials, Garfinkel said, "take the position that
   the cruder the bomb, the more sensitive the information is because the
   more countries there are that will be able to develop it. When we tell
   them the whole world knows how to do this but just doesn't have the
   resources, they get very angry at us."
   In his letter to OMB, Baker offered to settle for compromise language,
   acknowledging that there are collections of records that are "highly
   unlikely" to contain nuclear weapons or deployment data. But that
   offer does not seem to have been communicated to Capitol Hill.
   Garfinkel said the situation reminded him of his early days in
   government, about 25 years ago, when he was assigned to review the
   records of several World War II procurement agencies and found them
   piled floor to ceiling in a huge, auditorium-sized room at the Federal
   Records Center. He found box after box of still-classified papers
   about purchases of toilet paper, uniforms, helmets, "every item you
   can possibly imagine."
   "I was able to declassify that room in a single day," he said. But if
   the Kyl amendment had been the law, Garfinkel said, "I would still be
   in that room, 25 years later."
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