from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 28
April 5, 2002


A researcher working on a mine-clearing project in Africa recently went to the National Archives to review an old map of the region where he is working. He was told that the map, produced by the now-defunct Army Map Service in the 1960s, could no longer be made publicly available, upon the instructions of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA).

The researcher, who preferred not to be named, told Secrecy News that he was distressed by the new barriers to access and said they will set back the progress of his demining project.

Until recently, he said, there had been no difficulty in obtaining the maps he needed. "Before, it was just a question of asking for them, and it was easy, and it was great," he said.

One can still ask, but it is no longer easy or great.

Strictly speaking, said Paul Polk of NIMA public affairs, there has been "no change in policy" regarding access to the historical maps, only more careful implementation of the existing guidelines by both the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

It has long been government policy, Mr. Polk explained, that small scale maps (1:500,000 or smaller) are generally made available to the public, medium scale maps (around 1:250,000) sometimes are made available, and large scale maps (defined as greater than 1:250,000) generally are not made available to the public.

"Large scale maps are usually restricted from public use because they give the U.S. military an operational advantage if they are not made widely available," Mr. Polk said.

In the past, NIMA recently discovered, the National Archives was improperly granting public access to such unreleased maps, he said. That is no longer the case.

"You can always request access to particular maps, and we'll consider such requests," he said, noting that a number of large-scale maps are in fact available at the Archives.

However, the Africa researcher observed that the Defense Mapping Agency map index that was formerly available in the Archives Reading Room is no longer there, making it harder to formulate specific requests.

The new access limitations on historical maps only coincidentally followed September 11, Mr. Polk said, and are not a consequence of heightened security. The only ongoing change in NIMA access policy that is attributable to September 11 is the withholding of Military Installation Maps that portray the restricted areas at certain U.S. military facilities.


The Pentagon is asking Congress to eliminate the requirement to submit an annual report on spending for declassification of historical records.

The reporting requirement was enacted in 1999 as part of an effort by the Republican Congress, which was unsympathetic to the Clinton Administration's ambitious declassification program, to curtail anticipated spending for that program. For the same reason, declassification spending caps were also imposed in FY 2000 and 2001.

But the "threat" of runaway declassification has passed in the Bush Administration, and a cap on declassification spending was not enacted in FY 2002.

The reporting requirement "serves no further purpose and is unnecessary," the Defense Department General Counsel wrote in an April 1 legislative proposal submitted to Congress.

Excerpts from the legislative proposal, first reported by Inside the Pentagon, are posted here:


The security culture at the Federal Bureau of Investigation was roundly criticized in a new Commission report released yesterday.

The report notably cited the indiscriminate circulation of classified information collected through counterintelligence (FISA) wiretaps: "Highly classified information has been made available to a range of bureau personnel far broader than those who need to know it."

The report, which also provides some new details on the Robert Hanssen espionage case, was authored by a Commission led by former FBI (and CIA) Director William H. Webster.

It offers dozens of recommendations on various aspects of security policy, ranging from personnel security and document security to polygraph policy.

The text of the report, entitled "A Review of FBI Security Programs," is posted here:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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