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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
February 16, 2000


Federal Panel Continues to Declassify Selected Historically Valuable Documents

An interagency panel established by President Clinton has reversed agency decisions on classification and declassified information in the majority of the documents before it for the third straight year, according to a new report released today. In the more than 3 years since it first convened, the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) -- which resolves appeals of Executive Branch decisions on classification -- declassified information in 136 out of the 161 historically valuable documents upon which it has voted. ISCAP has upheld Executive Branch classification decisions in their entirety in 25 instances.

ISCAP was established on April 17, 1995, when President Clinton signed Executive Order 12958, "Classified National Security Information." The Order was the first effort since the end of the Cold War to reassess the balance between open government and the need to maintain secrets vital to national security. The order requires automatic declassification of information after 25 years, subject to very narrow exceptions.

Until President Clinton's order, information could be classified indefinitely if it had originated with and been classified by a foreign government. Now, information 25 years old or older can remain classified for diplomatic reasons only if disclosure would "seriously and demonstrably impair relations" with a foreign government or "seriously and demonstrably undermine ongoing diplomatic activities." Twenty-five-year-old information pertaining to the identity of an intelligence source can only remain classified under the new Order if disclosure "would clearly and demonstrably damage" national security.

President Clinton appointed the chair, Justice Department representative Roslyn A. Mazer, in January 1996. Ms. Mazer also serves as the Special Counsel for Intellectual Property in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. The Secretaries of State and Defense, the National Security Adviser, the Director of Central Intelligence, and the Archivist of the United States appointed other representatives to the Panel. The Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), Steven Garfinkel, serves as the Executive Secretary of the ISCAP, and his staff provides the staff support for the ISCAP.

"For a third consecutive year, ISCAP's record demonstrates that faithful implementation of the President's order can achieve the maximum, responsible disclosure," Mazer said in releasing the third ISCAP Communique, reporting its activities through September of 1999.

"In the past year, ISCAP has applied the carefully balanced standards in the Executive Order to some of the most challenging classification issues faced by the Executive Branch. In so doing, ISCAP has continued to protect our vital national security interests in an ever-changing international environment, while providing unprecedented access to government records from our recent past," Mazer said.

The ISCAP reports that to date, it has decided appeals seeking the declassification of 161 documents that remained fully or partially classified upon the completion of agency review. The ISCAP has declassified information in 83 percent (82 documents in full, 54 percent; 44 documents in part, 29 percent) of the documents reviewed. ISCAP has affirmed agency classification actions fully in only 17 percent (25 documents) of the 161 documents.

Documents declassified by ISCAP are usually made available through the organization that has permanent custody of them (in most cases, Presidential libraries). A database of decisions rendered by ISCAP is available in electronic form from the ISCAP staff at 202-219-5250 or via e-mail at iscap@arch1.nara.gov.

ISCAP's Executive Secretary, Steven Garfinkel, can be reached at 202-219-5250 or via e-mail at Steven.Garfinkel@arch1.nara.gov. ISCAP's Chair, Roslyn A. Mazer, can be reached at 202-514-1013 or via e-mail at Roslyn.Mazer@usdoj.gov.

Highlights of Activities of the
Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel

May 1998 -- September 1999

Executive Order 12958, "Classified National Security Information" (E.O. 12958), signed by President Clinton on April 17, 1995, and effective on October 14, 1995, created the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, or "ISCAP." The President directed the ISCAP to perform three critical functions in implementing the Order's provisions. These are: (a) deciding on appeals by parties whose requests for declassification of information under the mandatory review provisions of the Order have been denied by the classifying agency; (b) approving, denying or amending agency exemptions from the automatic declassification provisions of the Order; and (c) deciding appeals brought by individuals who challenge the classification status of information that they lawfully possess. The work of the ISCAP is crucial to the implementation of E.O. 12958, because its decisions will ultimately establish the cutting edge between what information is declassified and what information remains classified.

Senior officials appointed by the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Attorney General, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Archivist of the United States, and the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs make up the six voting members of the ISCAP. The President appointed Roslyn A. Mazer, currently serving as Special Counsel for Intellectual Property Matters, Criminal Division, Department of Justice, to serve as the ISCAP's chair. Other members serving during the period covered by this release are Jennifer A. Carrano, Chief, Policy and Special Issues Group, Community Management Staff; Michael J. Kurtz, Assistant Archivist of the United States; William H. Leary, Senior Director for Records and Access Management, National Security Council; J. William Leonard, Principal Director, Security and Information Operations, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (C3I); and Frank M. Machak, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Records and Publishing Services, Department of State.

The Director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), Steven Garfinkel, serves as the ISCAP's Executive Secretary, and ISOO provides its staff support. Interested persons may inquire about the ISCAP by contacting ISOO at the address, telephone or telefax numbers above, or by e-mail to the Executive Secretary at steven.garfinkel@arch1.nara.gov.

The ISCAP's first public release, issued in June 1997, described ISCAP's activities from when it first convened at the end of May 1996 through April 1997. Its second release, issued one year later, described its activities through April 1998. This release focuses on its activities from May 1998 through September 1999.

To date, the entirety of the ISCAP's caseload for which it has reached final decisions has consisted of mandatory review appeals. Since April 1998, the ISCAP has decided additional appeals seeking the declassification of 62 documents that remained fully or partially classified upon the completion of agency processing. Of these, the ISCAP has voted to declassify 24 documents in full, to declassify portions of 21 others, and to affirm the agency's classification action in its entirety for 10 documents. The ISCAP's final decisions on 7 documents within these appeals are still pending.

Viewing the totality of its decision docket from May 1996 to date, the ISCAP has declassified significant information in 83% of the documents on which it has voted (82 documents in full, 54 percent; 44 documents in part, 29 percent.) The ISCAP has voted to affirm the agency's classification action fully for 25 documents (17 percent). ISCAP actions from May 1996 through September 1999 illustrate how faithful application of the Executive Order's standards for 25-year-old information results in protection of vital national security interests and, in many instances, unprecedented access to historically valuable records.

Among the appeals that ISCAP has considered since April 1998 are the following:

During its deliberations, the ISCAP has sometimes consulted, usually through the Department of State, with officials of foreign governments to obtain their views concerning the prospective declassification of particular documents involving their equities. The Department of State has reported receiving significant cooperation from these governments in the course of these consultations.

The ISCAP has also worked to develop enhanced cooperation and information sharing among government members of the declassification community. On March 1, 1999, the ISCAP held a prototype briefing on its activities in the auditorium of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's J. Edgar Hoover Building. The briefing was attended by 57 individuals (45 participants, 5 observers, and 7 members of the ISCAP/ISOO staff). The participants represented the U.S. Army, Navy, and Coast Guard; the Joint Staff; the Naval Security Group; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the Departments of Energy, Transportation, and State; the National Security Council; the Security Policy Board; the Central Intelligence Agency; the National Reconnaissance Office; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the National Archives and Records Administration. The briefing provided the attendees with background information about the ISCAP and an explanation of the ISCAP decision-making process. It also engaged the audience in a practical exercise involving documents for which the ISCAP had already completed its deliberations. The ISCAP is exploring the possibility of tailored briefings for specific government entities.

The following benchmarks of the ISCAP's work are notable:

The database of decisions rendered by the ISCAP is available from ISOO on diskette. The database is maintained in Microsoft Access 6.0. Documents declassified by the ISCAP are usually made available to the requester through the custodial unit (e.g., a presidential library) that has permanent custody of them. Other interested persons may ordinarily obtain copies of declassified documents from the custodial units. ISOO may be contacted at the above address and telephone number for assistance in identifying and requesting copies of the documents discussed in this release.

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