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Statement by the CIA Historical Review Panel

April 5, 2000

The Director of Central Intelligence's Historical Review Panel (HRP) was formed in 1995, replacing a panel that was less formally organized and that had met only episodically. Since then, the HRP has met twice a year, with the mandate to:

The HRP, like the other DCI panels, is convened by the Director to provide him with confidential advice and assessments. Because the HRP's advice to the DCI must be completely frank and candid, we are not reporting Panel recommendations. But because this panel's primary concern is the program of declassification and the release of information to the public, at its last meeting DCI George Tenet and the Panel concluded that it should inform the interested public of the subjects and problems that the Panel is discussing. This statement reports the main topics we have covered since our inception.

Among the most important is the inclusion of relevant CIA documents and activities in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series, as mandated by law. The HRP has discussed access by State Department historians to CIA files, the procedures employed in deciding what can be declassified, the categories of information that are and are not appropriate for release, and ways to maximize the release of information and documents without damaging important security interests. We have also explored what is on the public record and its relationship to what can be officially released. In addition to extensive discussions with relevant CIA officials, we have talked with The Historian and the Historical Advisory Committee at State Department to understand relevant disagreements and help see that procedures are in place to resolve them expeditiously.

We have concentrated on FRUS because we view it as central to our nation's understanding of its past foreign policy decisions, and no historical record would be complete and accurate without relevant information and documents from the CIA. Moreover, the media and the State Department's Historical Advisory Committee have expressed concern that lack of cooperation by the CIA would compromise the integrity of the volumes. We have therefore sought to help resolve disagreements and ensure that the CIA contribution fully meets the high standards of the FRUS series. We believe that considerable progress has been made in both procedures and substance and are glad that significant intelligence material appears in the recent FRUS volumes as well as those scheduled for publication. Difficult questions are sure to arise with many volumes, and we will continue to work to maintain appropriate procedures that will lead to prompt and effective responses and to give our views to the DCI on appropriate guidelines for the release of information and documents.

The Panel has discussed the priority to be accorded the declassification of the 11 covert actions designated by DCIs Robert Gates and James Woolsey. Many of these present severe challenges to current declassification practices and will require considerable funds and personnel to do properly. The issues are difficult because many past covert actions are a significant part of American foreign policy, but they remain highly sensitive abroad and might compromise sources, methods, and people who have cooperated with the US.

At every meeting, we have confronted the problem of scarce resources that are not adequate for the multiple and legitimate demands for declassification. Most of CIA's efforts in this area must be devoted to complying with standing legislation (e.g., FRUS), special searches that are mandated, (e.g., JFK, Nazi gold), presidential initiatives, both those that set general requirements (e.g., Executive Order 12958) and those that deal with specific subjects (e.g., Pinochet), and requests from individuals and organizations--who do not have to be citizens of the U.S.--under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Under recent legislation, agencies incur severe penalties for failing to reduce FOIA backlogs. The result of these requirements is that few resources remain for working on projects that follow any priorities the Panel has recommended or might recommend in the future.

We have discussed the central role of intelligence on the USSR and the normal historiographic practice of following the "oldest first, top down" rule of concentrating resources on the oldest documents that remain classified and on those that reached the highest levels of the agency and so reflected the considered judgments on the most important issues. This way of proceeding would meet the standards of the historical community for documents to be released within context and reflecting the overall policy of the government. We have reviewed the obstacles to such release policies and tried to see how they might be overcome consistent with the other responsibilities of the intelligence community. We have also discussed how the CIA's programs to meet the quantitative targets set by EO 12958 can be designed to also release important documents that meet historical priorities.

The Panel has reviewed a number of declassification guidelines and issues, especially concerning activities abroad. We have discussed the virtues of proceeding on a case-by-case basis rather than by blanket prohibitions in sensitive areas. The former method requires more time and effort, but may lead to a more appropriate balancing of the legitimate interests for openness and confidentiality. It is important but difficult to craft guidelines that are general enough to apply to many cases without being so abstract that they are insensitive to the context that differs consequentially from one case to another.

Following the report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy (the "Moynihan Commission"), we have discussed clarifications and guidelines for what constitutes "sources and methods" that need to be protected.

The Panel has also discussed major legislation that bears on declassification. We have tried to assess the likely impact on the quantity and quality of information released and the ways in which competing interests are balanced. In particular, we have been concerned that "special searches" unaccompanied by additional funding diverts scare resources from established declassification requirement and historical priorities.

Declassifying documents does little good unless they are made available, and better yet, given wide circulation. This is true as well for the unclassified studies produced by CIA's History Staff. So we have been working with the offices involved to maximize the dissemination of these materials through both print and electronic media.

We appreciate the time and effort that the DCI, his senior staff, the Office of Information Management, and the Center for the Study of Intelligence have put into the declassification effort and working with us. We think that we now understand the processes and issues of declassification better than we did when we started, and although frustrations remain we believe that important progress has been made in cooperation between the State Department and CIA in the production of FRUS volumes and in institutionalizing declassification procedures. Much more work needs to be done, however, and we will continue to discuss how the public's needs for transparency and the government's need to protect confidentiality, sources, and methods can be balanced and served through prompt and appropriate declassification. We need to increase the confidence of the public that documents are not being kept secret just to conceal embarrassing predictions or actions. The historical record and the American people deserve and require an accounting, which is impossible without a vigorous and transparent declassification system, consistent with the continuing legitimate demands of national security.

Dr. Lewis Bellardo
National Archives and Records Administration

Professor Robert Jervis (Chair)
Department of Political Science
Columbia University

Professor Lawrence Kaplan
Department of History
Georgetown University

Professor John Norton Moore
Center for National Security Law
University of Virginia School of Law

Professor Robert Pastor
Department of Political Science
Emory University

Dr. Frederick Starr
Central Asia Institute
John Hopkins University

Professor Betty Unterberger
Department of History
Texas A&M University

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