Reclassifying might rewrite history
Posted March 3, 2006

Since the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, government agencies have quickened the pace in reclassifying public documents. Reclassifying documents is nothing new, but the amount of documents being pulled from the archives has increased considerably since President Bush took office.

The seven-year secret program has revoked access to about 9,500 documents. The reclassified documents are not what you would expect. Instead of reclassifying national secrets that may threaten the country if terrorists groups were to find them, agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency have opted to suppress embarrassing letters and memos.

Documents that have been previously available to the public for years are being pulled from the National Archives, leaving historians wondering, what happened? An intelligence historian is technically a criminal now because he has copies of the reclassified documents in his archives, which places him in violation of the Espionage Act. Who knows how many more historians possess documents that are being reclassified?

Some of the documents reclassified do not pose a threat to the government. A CIA assessment that thought the Chinese intervention in the Korean War was not probable in 1950 was reclassified probably because the CIA was wrong in their assessment. Reclassifying this document just to hide an embarrassing mistake in judgment on the CIA’s part is not a valid reason.

This document is just one of many documents that do not pose a significant threat to the United States. As for what other documents are being reclassified, that is also top secret, even though the worst case scenario is people will chuckle at the country’s bloopers for a minute or two.

Normally, government documents are released to the public after 25 years, unless there is a good reason for keeping it a secret. What is the reason behind reclassifying a CIA memorandum that describes a scheme to drop propaganda leaflets to countries behind the Iron Curtain? The popular reason is the agencies are covering their mistakes. In order to have a successful government, it cannot show its errors. Therefore, the government is desperate to hide as many documents as possible.

Thirty reviewers from defense and intelligence agencies are hard at work every weekday decreasing the amount of declassified documents for security reasons, thereby closing the knowledge gap. These reviewers claim the documents were not properly declassified; therefore they are not really reclassifying them. Although the documents were reviewed, marked declassified and allowed to be viewed by the public and published in some cases, they are still classified. For trying to hide their mistakes, the agencies are exposing themselves to another mistake: They don’t know how to properly declassify documents.

With their reasoning, the declassification process can be viewed as flawed and a major mistake on the reviewing panel’s part.

Not only is this a sign of the government’s inability to handle a simple task, but it may also be a sign of the government forcing history to be written their way. That is, without the declassified documents, certain aspects of this nation’s history will be misleading. Reclassifying a 1952 memorandum that describes the structure of the National Security Agency will force historians to leave out the fact that the agency collected data from domestic phone calls and e-mails. Agencies should not be allowed to force historians to leave out the truth about the past.


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