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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 4

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 4

Subject:

Re: NARA Press Briefing (reclassification audit)

From:

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Reply-To:

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Date:

Tue, 25 Apr 2006 11:21:44 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (133 lines)

For thsoe who are interested, please see article below on the reclassification
controversy.

Bruce P. Montgomery
Univ. of Colorado



   The Chronicle of Higher Education
http://chronicle.com/free/2006/04/2006042501t.htm

Today's News

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

How the National Archives Struck a Secret Deal on Documents With the CIA

By JEFFREY R. YOUNG

A top official at the National Archives and Records Administration said on
Monday that the main purpose of the organization's controversial deal with the
CIA was to make sure agents did not mishandle documents as they reviewed them
for possible reclassification.

Last week the National Archives acknowledged that, soon after the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001, it struck a secret, classified agreement with
the Central Intelligence Agency spelling out how the two federal agencies would
work together to remove documents from the archives' shelves for the purpose of
reclassification. Since the deal became public, the archives has moved quickly
to denounce it and to push to declassify the agreement, which is now available
online.

Allen Weinstein, who has been the archives' director since last year, has put a
stop to any further removal of documents for reclassification, pending an audit
of the process. A report on that audit is expected to be released on Wednesday.

In an interview on Monday, Michael J. Kurtz, an assistant archivist who signed
the agreement on behalf of the archives, discussed how the deal had come to be.

"You need to go back in time to about 2000," he said. "We had some concerns
here at the archives about the way the CIA was handling some of the records as
they were going about their review work in dealing with" an executive order
about classified information signed in 1995 by President Bill Clinton. The
order gave a broad mandate to declassify federal records, some going back
decades.

"The thrust of the emphasis of the National Archives in forging an agreement
with the CIA was to codify exactly what procedures [would be used] and how
records would be properly handled," he added. The goal, he said, "was to ensure
the proper handling of the records."

He also said that the agreement had sought to limit the amount of time that
documents could be removed for review.

After the agreement was made public last week, many archivists complained
publicly about not only the secrecy of the agreement, but also its language,
which suggests that the National Archives considers deceit to be an acceptable
tool in dealing with researchers. "It is in the interests of both the CIA and
the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)," the document
says, "to avoid the kind of public notice and researcher complaints that may
arise from removing from the open shelves for extended periods of time records
that had been publicly available."

"I think that sentence is very inartfully worded," said Mr. Kurtz. "I certainly
did not think that that was the mission of the National Archives to, how should
I put it, to fool people -- to deceive. At the same time, the concern of these
agencies was that there was national-security information improperly released,
so we had to strike a balance ... between protecting national-security
information and having the maximum access possible."

Mr. Kurtz said he was not surprised at the time that the CIA had classified the
agreement, and he said that he did not press for the agreement to be
declassified.

"At that point, you have to go back to the time period that this really
occurred," he said. "The agreement was finalized in the aftermath of 9/11. The
primary concern at this agency and within the government was security --
whether we're talking about physical security, information security, or records
security. And so that's the environment in which this agreement was finalized."

"I'm not going to get into retrospect," he continued. "I kind of dealt with
things as I did at the time, and now this is a different perspective. I
personally certainly understand the concerns that have been expressed about
these agreements and wholeheartedly support the direction of the archivist."

Mr. Kurtz's boss at the time, John W. Carlin, issued a statement last week
saying that the deal had been kept secret even from him, and that he
was "shocked" by its language. But Mr. Kurtz said that Mr. Carlin had been made
aware of the agreement at the time.

"I certainly remember discussing this with him," said Mr. Kurtz. "It was in the
context of dozens of discussions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in regards
to security -- all aspects of it, particularly relating to records security. It
is quite possible that Mr. Carlin does not recollect this."

In an interview on Monday, Mr. Carlin stressed that he had never seen the
language of the agreement until it was publicly released last week. As to
whether Mr. Kurtz discussed the agreement with him at the time, Mr. Carlin
said, "he may or may not have."

"I don't know if there's any inconsistency there," Mr. Carlin added. "He's not
saying I saw the document, and I'm very sure I didn't."

Mr. Carlin, a former Kansas governor who is now a visiting professor of
political science at Kansas State University, said that the secret
agreement "flies in the face" of the archives' mission. "We're a public trust,"
he said, "and you can't maintain that confidence and trust if you're not as
open as possible."

When asked if he would have supported the agreement had he known of its
specifics at the time, he said, "obviously, now I'd say of course not."

He added, however, that he does support how the current archivist, Mr.
Weinstein, is handling the situation. He said he hoped the forthcoming audit
would soon shed more light on how the agreement emerged.

Copyright  2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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