Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Absurd Reclassifications by National Archives

"This secret agreement reveals nothing less than a covert operation to white-out the nation's history, aided and abetted by the National Archives," said National Security Archive executive director Thomas Blanton."

Washington, D.C., 11 April 2006 - The National Archives and Records
Administration secretly agreed to a covert effort, led by the Air Force,
the CIA, and other still-hidden intelligence entities, to remove
open-shelf archival records and reclassify them while disguising the
results so that researchers would not complain, according to a previously
secret Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The secret agreement, made
between the Air Force and the National Archives, was declassified pursuant
to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive
and posted on the NARA website yesterday.

The heavily excised MOU, signed by assistant archivist Michael Kurtz in
March 2002, reveals that the National Archives agreed that the existence
of the program was to be kept secret as long as possible: "it is in the
interests of both [excised] and the National Archives and Records
Administration (NARA) to avoid the attention and researcher complaints
that may arise from removing material that has already been publicly
available," states the MOU. NARA agreed that the withdrawal sheets
indicating the removal of documents would conceal any reference to the
program and "any reason for the withholding of documents."

NARA also agreed to conceal the identities of the intelligence personnel
who were reviewing and removing the documents, according to the agreement,
including from NARA's own staff. "NARA will not disclose the true reason
for the presence of [deleted agency] AFDO [deleted] personnel at the
Archives, to include disclosure to persons within NARA who do not have a
validated need-to-know."

The National Security Archive first learned of the existence of the
agreement, classified SECRET/[codeword deleted], earlier this year, when
Archive staff accompanied historian Matthew Aid to a meeting at NARA to
complain about absurd reclassifications such as 50-year-old documents that
had been widely published. On February 1, Archive analyst William Burr
filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the document. NARA and
Defense Department officials acknowledged the existence of the MOU at the
March 14, 2006 hearing of a House Government Reform subcommittee chaired
by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Ct), but refused to discuss the substance of
the MOU in public session.

During the hearing, Archivist of the United States Alan Weinstein suffered
persistent questioning about the MOU from Chairman Shays and other members
of the Committee, to which Dr. Weinstein could only reply "it's

"This secret agreement reveals nothing less than a covert operation to
white-out the nation's history, aided and abetted by the National
Archives," said National Security Archive executive director Thomas

The excised portions of the MOU released yesterday apparently still hide
other intelligence entities involved with the Air Force and the CIA in
reclassifying public records. The MOU was originally classified at the
codeword level, but the codeword itself remains classified, according to
the markings on the released MOU.

The reclassification activities at NARA began at the end of the Clinton
administration. So far, more than 55,000 pages of declassified documents,
dating back to the World War II era, have been removed from the open
files. During the March 14 hearing, Congressman Shays noted that the
reclassification program was not in the national interest. "This absurd
effort to put the toothpaste back into the tube persists despite the
growing consensus - supported by testimony before this Subcommittee - that
from fifty to ninety percent of the material currently withheld should not
be classified at all," Shays stated in his opening statement.

According to National Security Archive historian William Burr, concern
over references in some declassified records to various aerial
reconnaissance systems that Air Force has used over the years, such as the
U-2 and the earlier GENETRIX balloon program, may have triggered the
reclassification project. Censored sections of the MOU, he noted, could
refer to operations of the National Security Agency. If the NSA was
involved, then perhaps the re-review referenced in the MOU focused on
specialized intelligence activities.

In February 2002, a recruitment notice shows that the Raytheon Corporation
received a contract from the Air Force to conduct the reclassification
review and that the project team would include at least 20 people.