Barbara Ferguson, Arab News
Wednesday 22 February 2006
Last Update 22 February 2006 12:00 am
WASHINGTON, 22 February 2006 — Perhaps those at Homeland Security have too much free time on their hands, but news yesterday that US intelligence agencies have been removing thousands of historical documents from public access during a seven-year-old secret program at the National Archives, including those previously published by State Department and private historians, has many in town scratching their heads.
Restoration of classified status to more than 55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999, when the Central Intelligence Agency and five other agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release of sensitive information, the New York Times reported Monday.
It accelerated after the 2001 terrorist attacks, said the paper. But because the reclassification program is itself shrouded in secrecy, it continued virtually without outside notice until December, when an intelligence historian, Matthew Aid, noticed that dozens of documents he had copied years ago had been withdrawn from the archives’ open shelves. 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. Some of it is mundane, and some of it is outright ridiculous,” said Matthew
Under existing guidelines, government documents are supposed to be declassified after 25 years unless there is particular reason to keep them secret. Historians say it is part of a marked trend toward greater secrecy under the Bush Administration, said the Times, which has increased the pace of classifying documents, slowed declassification and discouraged the release of some material under the Freedom of Information Act.
But other experts on government secrecy told the Times they believe the CIA and other spy agencies, not the White House, are the driving force behind the reclassification program.