PUBLIC INFORMATION — President Obama will maintain a lid of secrecy on millions of pages
of Cold War era military and intelligence documents that were scheduled to be
declassified by the end of the year, reports Bryan Bender in the Boston Globe.
The missed deadline spells trouble for the White Houses promises to
introduce an era of government openness, say advocates, who believe
that releasing historical information enforces a key check on
government behavior. They cite as an example the abuses by the Central
Intelligence Agency during the Cold War, including domestic spying and
assassinations of foreign officials, that were publicly outlined in a
set of agency documents known as the family jewels.
The documents in questionall more than 25 years oldwere
scheduled to be declassified on Dec. 31 under an order originally
signed by President Bill Clinton and amended by President George W.
But now Obama finds himself in the awkward position of extending the
secrecy, despite his repeated pledges of greater transparency, because
his administration has been unable to prod spy agencies into
Some of the agencies have thrown up roadblocks to disclosure,
engaged in turf battles over how documents should be evaluated, and
have reviewed only a fraction of the material to determine whether
releasing them would jeopardize national security.
In the face of these complications, the White House has given the
agencies a commitment that they will get an extension beyond Dec. 31 of
an undetermined lengthpossibly years, said the administration
officials, who spoke on the condition they not be identified discussing
It will be the third such extension: Clinton
granted one in 2000 and Bush granted one in 2003.
The documents, dating from World War II to the early 1980s, cover
the gamut of foreign relations, intelligence activities, and military
operations – with the exception of nuclear weapons data, which remain
protected by Congress. Limited to information generated by more than
one agency, the records in question are held by the Central
Intelligence Agency; the National Security Agency; the departments of
Justice, State, Defense, and Energy; and other security and
Obama laid out broad goals for reforming the system in May, when he
ordered a 90-day review by the National Security Council. Government,
he said, must be as transparent as possible and must not withhold
information for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment.
The review is part of Obamas efforts to make all government
operations more public, including his decision to release White House
visitor logs and set up a new office to expedite the release of
government files under the Freedom of Information Act.
Among the revisions Obama said he wanted considered were the
establishment of a National Declassification Center to coordinate and
speed up the process, as well as new procedures to prevent what he
called over classification.
But officials said an executive order that has been drafted by the
White House to replace a disclosure order that Bush signed in 2003 is
meeting resistance from key national security and intelligence
officials, delaying its approval.
The next phase is most crucial, said William J. Bosanko, director
of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives
and Records Administration, who was appointed by Obama in April 2008 to
oversee the government classification system. It is a bit of a test.
You have an administration that has committed to certain things and
tried to shape the direction but then you have the bureaucracy which is
very adept at resisting change.