Columbus Dispatch editorializes against reclassification program

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Americans unconcerned about government secrecy should consider this: Federal authorities have been resealing many records already made public.

Since 1999, 9,500 documents containing 55,500 pages have been withdrawn from public view. These are papers that were made public under a 1995 executive order that required declassification of many records that were at least 25 years old.

After that order by President Clinton expanded the official record available to historians, some agencies objected. The Clinton administration began a program four years later to reclassify some of the data.

Agencies including the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Justice and Defense departments contended that many sensitive papers were among the documents made public.

How sensitive could they be? Often, the records dealt with Cold War policy in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. In some cases, researchers already had copied the papers. Included in the removal were a series of reports published by the State Department titled, Foreign Relations of the United States.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and other critics of the reclassification program wonder what possible threat to national security is posed by documents from the mid-20th century.

What's more likely is that the agencies sought to remove documents that would be embarrassing to the United States or to the offices involved.

One withdrawn document is a 1950 CIA memo to President Truman discounting the likelihood that Chinese communists would intervene in the Korean War. The Chinese invasion came six weeks after the faulty CIA analysis.

Because of complaints raised by historians and such groups as the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, the brakes have been put on the reclassification project.

Federal archivist Allen Weinstein that the withdrawal of data will stop until the Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives completes an audit of the reclassified records. Audit results are expected next month.

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