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May 26, 2004 4:06 pm

CIA: You Want Us to Do What?

Steven Aftergood, in the newsletter of the FAS Project on Government Secrecy (Volume 2004, Issue No. 47 May 26, 2004):

In a splendid example of its dysfunctional information policies, the Central Intelligence Agency this month denied a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of a CD-ROM collection of documents that it had declassified and provided to the National Archives years ago.

The request for the CD-ROM was filed by Tim Brown of in May 2001.

The CIA has declassified millions of historical documents in recent years, but the Agency makes access to most of them about as burdensome as possible.

The entire collection that was requested by Mr. Brown is available to researchers who are able to visit the National Archives, but only paper copies of the documents may be obtained.

Why not provide a complete set in soft copy?

This option was mandated by Congress when it amended the FOIA in
1996 to state: "An agency shall provide the record in any form
or format requested by the person if the record is readily reproducible by the agency in that form or format."

But incredibly, the CIA says that to release the documents on CD-ROM would damage national security.

"After due consideration, we have determined that the requested material must be denied on the basis of FOIA exemption (b)(1) [which exempts properly classified information]," wrote Alan W.
Tate, the Acting Information and Privacy Coordinator at CIA, in a May 12 letter to Mr. Brown:

It is doubtful that the requested CD-ROM meets even the most lenient standards for classification, particularly since all of the component documents are in the public domain and could be manually compiled into a softcopy collection, with some effort and expense.

But the denial highlights the radical defects in CIA information policy, as well as the Agency's seeming inability to accurately assess threats to national security.

Mr. Brown of said he will appeal the decision.

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