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Prepared Statement of
Thomas Baer

at a hearing of the
Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
House Government Reform Committee


"Implementation of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act"

June 27, 2000

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to address you and to comment on our work to date.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Michael Kurtz, his staff, and the other members of the IWG represented here today. All have made a sincere commitment to fulfill our mandate.

The agency heads and their representatives have made a concerted effort to declassify documents sixty years on but much remains to be done. Because the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act under which they are operating imports the exceptions to declassification contained in the Defense Act of 1947, such as sources and methods, the agencies have taken the position that a page-by-page review is indicated as opposed to bulk declassification. I strongly believe that bulk declassification is permissible under the statute but I have not been successful in persuading the agencies. Without engaging in an extended analysis, the gist of my argument is that the statute says that the agency heads "may" invoke the exceptions, not that they must do so.

When one measures the time and expense attendant upon page-by-page review against the possible danger to the security of the United States arising from bulk declassification of World War II and cold war documents, it would appear that the benefits of bulk declassification outweigh the detriments of revelation of source and method secrets of the forties and fifties. I believe that this analysis would justify agency head discretion to bulk declassify for most agencies and most collections.

The agencies differ. They say that revelation of sources and methods of the forties and fifties imperils their operations today. Learned Hand wrote, "the spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure it is right." Similarly, I confess that I am not too sure that I am right.

On the merits of what we have released and what we will release in the future, it will be for the historians to judge its significance, an opportunity, Mr. Chairman, that this overdue and wise legislation finally affords them.

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