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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 3

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 3

Subject:

Re: Reclassification of letters at NARA

From:

Richard Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Tue, 18 Apr 2006 21:57:40 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (122 lines)

While there is much that is good in the SAA statement on the NARA reclassification case, I am concerned about a few elements of this statement.

My greatest concern is that SAA, while urging NARA to continue to reform and strengthen its role in such secret Memoranda of Understanding, does not call for an independent investigatory group to examine what has occurred.  It seems that congratulating Archivist Weinstein for his actions to open government and NARA’s work is premature until we have additional information about what exactly happened with this reclassification effort and the March 2002 MOU (and whether there might be others).  The SAA letter should have focused on asking for a greater accountability.  What we have here suggests that the problem has been fixed, long before we have more information about what actually occurred.

There are some aspects of the statement which seem a bit peculiar.  Shouldn’t the statement read that “Archivists understand that access to a “small number” [rather than “some”] of records must be limited in the interests of national security and to protect individuals’ privacy”?  Shouldn’t the statement read “The Society believes that only the ‘small number’ [rather than ‘those’] of documents that would pose a genuine security threat if open should be reclassified, that all other documents be left declassified, and that agreements with agencies restricting access  be published [adding “and disseminated widely”].   These kinds of changes would make the important point that restricting any government records must be greatly restricted.  Also, why doesn’t the letter offer help from SAA, such as – “The SAA stands ready to assist in any way to help with promulgating and implementing these principles and would welcome the opportunity to provide forums, such as at our annual confe!
 rence, 
to discuss the principles and the issues raised by this attempt to limit citizens’ access to records.”  In other words, bring the whole matter out into the open for discussion, criticism, analysis, and assessment.  The SAA letter seems more to seek to close the matter than to open it up for scrutiny.

All the positive elements could have remained, and I concur that they are important actions, but the National Archives and the Archivist should be held to greater accountability than is reflected in this statement.

The deafening silence from the profession, or at least that portion subscribing to the Archives list, suggests that this is not a serious matter for it.  Perhaps, at least later this weak we could curtail the endless postings of Friday Funnies as we witness the continuing weakening of our democratic state.
A kind of moment of silence. . . .
--
Richard J. Cox
Professor
Department of Library and Information Sciences
School of Information Sciences
University of Pittsburgh
Editor, Records & Information Management Report
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Voice:  412-624-3245
FAX:    412-648-7001
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
homepage: http://www2.sis.pitt.edu/%7Ercox/

 -------------- Original message ----------------------
From: Richard Pearce-Moses <[log in to unmask]>
> Today, SAA Council sent the Archivist of the United States the following
> letter.
> 
> Dear Professor Weinstein:
> 
> Archivists share a passion and professional ethic for open access to
> government records.  We believe that a citizen’s right to review public
> records is a hallmark of democratic government.  This right allows citizens
> to hold their public leaders accountable and to protect their rights and
> privileges.
> 
> Archivists understand that access to some records must be limited in the
> interests of national security and to protect individuals’ privacy.
> However, recent news articles about efforts begun before you took office to
> reclassify records, including references to a secret memorandum of
> understanding, have raised a number of concerns.  We understand that these
> reclassification efforts may be an attempt to correct errors of documents
> mistakenly declassified.
> 
> At the same time, we are concerned that those agreements may have been an
> effort to restrict access to information for reasons other than national
> security.  Our concerns are reinforced by a portion of the agreement with
> the Air Force that indicates the motivation was, in part, “to avoid the
> attention and researcher complaints that may arise from removing material
> that has already been available publicly from the open shelves for an
> extended period of time.”  As Representative Christopher Shays said in a 14
> March 2006 hearing, “Secrets are kept to protect the national security, not
> to prevent embarrassment or protect Cold War bureaucrats from history's
> judgment.”
> 
> We very much appreciate several actions that you have taken to balance the
> public’s need to know against national security interests, including
> 
> &#8729; Halting all reclassification pending an audit to distinguish fact from
> fiction and gather the information necessary to make intelligent, informed
> decisions.
> 
> &#8729; Holding a meeting with national security agencies to establish a balance
> between classification and access in a manner that is consistent with law,
> regulation, and common sense.
> 
> &#8729; Calling for the resources necessary to restore access to government
> records while protecting truly sensitive national security information from
> unauthorized disclosure.
> 
> &#8729; Establishing transparent standards governing the review of previously
> declassified records that have been available for research at the National
> Archives.
> 
> &#8729; Publishing the memoranda of understanding between NARA and the Air Force
> and NARA and the CIA, and stating publicly, “If records must be removed for
> reasons of national security, the American people will always, at the very
> least, know when it occurs and how many records are affected.”
> 
> The Society believes that only those documents that would pose a genuine
> security threat if open should be reclassified, that all other documents be
> left declassified, and that agreements with agencies restricting access to
> be published.
> 
> On behalf of the members of Council of the Society of American Archivists,
> I commend your efforts to support those principles.
> 
> Sincerley,
> 
> 
> Richard Pearce-Moses
> President, 2005-2006
> 
> A posting from the Archives & Archivists LISTSERV List sponsored by the Society 
> of American Archivists, www.archivists.org.
> For the terms of participation, please refer to 
> http://www.archivists.org/listservs/arch_listserv_terms.asp.
> 
> To subscribe or unsubscribe, send e-mail to [log in to unmask]
>       In body of message:  SUB ARCHIVES firstname lastname
>                     *or*:  UNSUB ARCHIVES
> To post a message, send e-mail to [log in to unmask]
> 
> Or to do *anything* (and enjoy doing it!), use the web interface at
>      http://listserv.muohio.edu/archives/archives.html
> 
> Problems?  Send e-mail to Robert F Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>

A posting from the Archives & Archivists LISTSERV List sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, www.archivists.org.
For the terms of participation, please refer to http://www.archivists.org/listservs/arch_listserv_terms.asp.

To subscribe or unsubscribe, send e-mail to [log in to unmask]
      In body of message:  SUB ARCHIVES firstname lastname
                    *or*:  UNSUB ARCHIVES
To post a message, send e-mail to [log in to unmask]

Or to do *anything* (and enjoy doing it!), use the web interface at
     http://listserv.muohio.edu/archives/archives.html

Problems?  Send e-mail to Robert F Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>

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