from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 47
May 26, 2004


In a splendid example of its dysfunctional information policies, the Central Intelligence Agency this month denied a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of a CD-ROM collection of documents that it had declassified and provided to the National Archives years ago.

The request for the CD-ROM was filed by Tim Brown of in May 2001.

The CIA has declassified millions of historical documents in recent years, but the Agency makes access to most of them about as burdensome as possible.

The entire collection that was requested by Mr. Brown is available to researchers who are able to visit the National Archives, but only paper copies of the documents may be obtained.

Why not provide a complete set in soft copy?

This option was mandated by Congress when it amended the FOIA in 1996 to state: "An agency shall provide the record in any form or format requested by the person if the record is readily reproducible by the agency in that form or format."

But incredibly, the CIA says that to release the documents on CD-ROM would damage national security.

"After due consideration, we have determined that the requested material must be denied on the basis of FOIA exemption (b)(1) [which exempts properly classified information]," wrote Alan W. Tate, the Acting Information and Privacy Coordinator at CIA, in a May 12 letter to Mr. Brown:

It is doubtful that the requested CD-ROM meets even the most lenient standards for classification, particularly since all of the component documents are in the public domain and could be manually compiled into a softcopy collection, with some effort and expense.

But the denial highlights the radical defects in CIA information policy, as well as the Agency's seeming inability to accurately assess threats to national security.

Mr. Brown of said he will appeal the decision.


The notion that a collection of unclassified items could somehow be properly classified is counterintuitive, yet it is authorized in the governing executive order on classification:

"Compilations of items of information that are individually unclassified may be classified if the compiled information reveals an additional association or relationship that: (1) meets the standards for classification under this order; and (2) is not otherwise revealed in the individual items of information." (Executive Order 13292, sect. 1.7e).

Still, the practice remains controversial.

"Classification experts disagree on whether a compilation of unclassified items of information should be classified," wrote Arvin S. Quist in a 1991 study performed for the Department of Energy.

See "Classification of Compilations of Information" newly available online here (1.3 MB PDF file):


The yawning gulf between the Bush Administration's sequential rationales for the war in Iraq and the facts as they have emerged (e.g. regarding weapons of mass destruction, links to al Qaida, etc.) has left many people grasping for an explanation of what went wrong.

Lately, the suggestion has been raised that the war was propelled by an Iranian effort to spread disinformation about the state of Iraqi WMD programs. Was the Bush Administration the unwitting victim of a foreign covert action?

Historian John Prados doesn't think so. In his new book "Hoodwinked," he argues that officials knowingly manipulated the available information "to win popular support for an unprovoked war."

"This book is an attempt to compile and share with the American public for the first time the actual intelligence available to the Bush administration as it made its case for war. It then aims to show how this information was consistently distorted, manipulated, and ignored, as the president, vice-president, secretaries of defense and state, and others, sought to persuade the country that the facts about Iraq were other than what the intelligence indicated," Prados writes.

Although the author plainly has a point of view, the book stays fairly close to the documentary record, providing copies of key source documents like the October 2002 CIA White Paper on Iraq, and carefully annotating and analyzing them.

Though it is not the last word on the subject, the book provides a solid formulation of the questions about the U.S. war in Iraq that citizens and voters will have to contend with in the months and years to come.

See "Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War" by John Prados of the National Security Archive, just published by the New Press, 2004:


The "backstory" of the Pentagon Papers case -- how it came about, what it meant, and what its consequences were -- is the subject of another new book co-edited by John Prados, who has been busy lately.

Based in part on a June 2001 symposium marking the thirtieth anniversary of Daniel Ellsberg's famous "leak" of classified information, the book provides numerous perspectives on the impact and significance of the case.

For more information about "Inside the Pentagon Papers," edited by John Prados and Margaret Pratt Porter, University Press of Kansas, 2004, see:


The simmering debate about whether or not to renew several provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are set to expire next year would be foreclosed by a new bill to repeal the sunset clauses of the Act, in effect making all of the Act's provisions permanent.

Ten influential Republican Senators, led by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), quietly introduced the bill on May 21.

"The Patriot Act has played a major role in what U.S. antiterror investigations have accomplished so far," said Sen. Kyl. "And it is clear that we will continue to need the authorities created by the Patriot Act into the foreseeable future."

See his May 21 statement on S. 2476, a bill to amend the USA PATRIOT Act to repeal the sunsets, here:

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last week, former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) recalled that his support for the USA Patriot Act was predicated on the "sunset" of several of its provisions so as to allow Congress to review how the Act's new powers were used.

"Making those powers permanent now would take away any leverage Congress now has to secure cooperation from the Justice Department in its oversight efforts," Mr. Barr said May 18.

Congress can ill afford to surrender any such leverage.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recently noted that over a year had passed since Attorney General Ashcroft had agreed to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"March 4, 2004 was the 1-year anniversary of the last, brief appearance by Attorney General Ashcroft before the Senate Judiciary Committee," Sen. Leahy noted on April 8.

"It was not an anniversary that we marked for celebration. Instead, we marked the day as a low point, and symbolic of the disdain shown by the administration for oversight by the people's representatives in Congress." See:


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

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