from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 93
September 28, 2005


Most executive branch agencies are on track to meet the deadline for automatic declassification of their 25 year old classified documents by December 31, 2006, the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) said in a new report submitted to President Bush this week.

But "a handful of agencies still remain at risk of not meeting the deadline," ISOO director J. William Leonard wrote.

Automatic declassification of historically valuable classified records as they become 25 years old was originally mandated (with certain specified exceptions) by President Clinton in his 1995 executive order 12958.

The principle of automatic declassification was also affirmed by President Bush in the 2003 executive order 13292 though he deferred the effective date until the end of next year to permit agencies more time to assess their classified collections and plan for declassification.

Now the December 2006 deadline is looming and an estimated 155 million pages of textual records await agency review for declassification, authorized exemption, or referral to another agency.

"Any such records not acted upon will be automatically declassified subject to the limitations and conditions set forth in the Order," the ISOO report stated.

Properly understood, declassification is not a compromise with national security requirements or a concession to critics. It is an integral part of the national security classification process.

As the ISOO report explained, "The classification system... cannot be depended upon to protect today's sensitive national security information unless there is an ongoing process to purge it of yesterday's secrets that no longer require protection."

Yet declassification activity has declined steadily over the past several years, while spurious classification appears to be on the rise.

The implementation of automatic declassification next year will therefore be a test of the continued viability of the classification system.

"It is important to recognize that December 31, 2006, represents not an end unto itself but rather the beginning of integrating automatic declassification into the fabric of the security classification framework."

"We have emphasized to each agency head that automatic declassification is an ongoing program that begins, not ends, on December 31, 2006, and thus requires their personal commitment as you called for in the Order," ISOO told the President.

See "An Assessment of Declassification in the Executive Branch," Report to the President from the Information Security Oversight Office, September 21, 2005 (transmitted September 26):


Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate this week would permit television coverage of open sessions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The purpose of this legislation is to open the Supreme Court doors so that more Americans can see the process by which the Court reaches critical decisions of law that affect this country and everyday Americans," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Justice Felix Frankfurter perhaps anticipated the day when Supreme Court arguments would be televised when he said that he longed for a day when the news media would cover the Supreme Court as thoroughly as it did the World Series," Sen. Specter said in his introductory statement.

"Allowing the public greater access to [Supreme Court] proceedings will allow Americans to evaluate for themselves the quality of justice in this country, and deepen their understanding of the work that goes on in the Court," added Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who cosponsored the bill along with Senators Cornyn, Allen, Grassley, Schumer and Feingold.

See the introduction of S.1768, a bill to permit televising of Supreme Court proceedings, September 26:

"Justices on the Supreme Court oppose the televising of their proceedings," according to a recent Congressional Research Service report, "in part because the cameras might alter decision making and intrude on the privacy of the justices, making them public celebrities."


The U.S. Army has issued a new interim field manual to clarify command and control responsibilities in the handling of detainees, acknowledging that existing military doctrine on the subject is deficient.

"As a result of recent events and investigations into detainee operations in Iraq, it was determined there was a need to clarify command and control," the Interim Field Manual states, or understates.

The new manual defines the command structure and discusses "the flow of detainees... at each echelon of command."

"It is important to note that there is a single officer at every echelon overall responsible for detainee operations."

See "Command and Control of Detainee Operations," Field Manual Interim (FMI) 3-63.6, September 2005:

In an extraordinary letter to Senator John McCain published by the Washington Post today, Capt. Ian Fishback wrote that the military chain of command failed to provide clear guidance on treatment of detainees.

"I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees," Capt. Fishback wrote.

"I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq."


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

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