U.S. reclassifies thousands of public documents

U.S. intelligence agencies have reclassified more than 9,500 previously declassified documents since 1999 under a secret intelligence program.

The National Security Archive has published more information as well as a few of the previously declassified historical documents, such as a 1948 Chinese intelligence estimate which has been widely disseminated and discussed before it was reclassified in 2001.

The intelligence agencies claim that the documents were released in error under a Clinton-era executive order which requires most government documents to be declassified after 25 years except in certain situations, such as those dealing with intelligence sources and methods or ongoing war plans.

In December, intelligence historian Matthew Aid noticed that declassified documents he had previously read in the National Archives were missing, and that’s when he discovered the reclassification program.

Mr. Aid was struck by what seemed to him the innocuous contents of the documents — mostly decades-old State Department reports from the Korean War and the early cold war. He found that eight reclassified documents had been previously published in the State Department’s history series, “Foreign Relations of the United States.”

“The stuff they pulled should never have been removed,” he said. “Some of it is mundane, and some of it is outright ridiculous.”

After Mr. Aid and other historians complained, the archives’ Information Security Oversight Office, which oversees government classification, began an audit of the reclassification program, said J. William Leonard, director of the office.

Mr. Leonard said he ordered the audit after reviewing 16 withdrawn documents and concluding that none should be secret.

“If those sample records were removed because somebody thought they were classified, I’m shocked and disappointed,” Mr. Leonard said in an interview. “It just boggles the mind.” — New York Times

More coverage: BBC News

It’s sure boggling my mind. Thousands of totally innocuous documents reclassified for what?

While the secret reclassification program began in 1999, it picked up the pace after President George W. Bush took office. Excessive secrecy?

One thought on “U.S. reclassifies thousands of public documents

  • February 22, 2006 at 4:54 am

    Re-classifying these things is like trying to put the genie back in the bottle. I can only think of 2 reasons:

    1) They’re trying to cover up mistakes they (or members of the administration) have made in the past, so watchdogs, historians, journalists can’t find them later and say “See, this contradicts what you said here” or “Hey, this proves you were lying the whole time!”

    2) They’re doing it just “because they can”. I wouldn’t put it past them – Bush has a track record of doing stupid things just because critics say he shouldn’t do them – he wants to prove HE is the president, and what he wants goes, no matter what ANYONE else thinks – right or wrong.

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