from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 96
October 1, 2007

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Last week the National Archives announced the release of the final report to Congress on implementation of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, which is said to be the largest single-subject declassification program ever performed by the U.S. government. Millions of pages of records from World War II and the early Cold War years relating to Nazi war crimes have been released as a result.

But the lessons learned from declassifying the "extraordinary collection" of documents may prove even more important than the documents themselves, wrote Steven Garfinkel, the chairman of the interagency working group (IWG) that led the program.

In particular, he said, the effort "has demonstrated that disaster does not befall America when intelligence agencies declassify old intelligence operations records."

"Before the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, intelligence agencies, supported by the President, the Congress, and the Federal courts, routinely and consistently exempted files containing intelligence sources and methods from declassification, regardless of the age or actual sensitivity of the information."

The Act deliberately rejected that policy of absolute denial and authorized the publication of intelligence sources and methods, albeit historical ones.

And so the newly disclosed records do "indeed reveal the vast interrelationship between British intelligence and the OSS [Office of Strategic Security, a U.S. predecessor to the CIA]."

Yet "it is preposterous to suggest that releasing OSS records under the [Act] is a threat to our current working relationship with the United Kingdom," Mr. Garfinkel wrote in the preface to the new report.

"The declassification lessons learned during the implementation of the Disclosure Acts can and should be applied to other intelligence records of similar age, and may even be applied to records of somewhat more recent vintage, no matter how sensitive the information within these records once was," said Mr. Garfinkel, who served as director of the Information Security Oversight Office from 1980 to 2002.

It is essential that such lessons be learned, he said, because in practice the declassification process is arbitrary, unpredictable and subject to the whims of individual declassifiers.

"Whether a request for declassification is answered with a yes or a no is essentially determined by whoever happens to make the disclosure or non-disclosure decisions," Mr. Garfinkel candidly stated.

"All of the laws and orders and regulations, all of the classification and declassification guides and guidance can be cited to support either answer this person cares to give."

"The individual in charge makes the call based on his or her experiences, biases, proclivities, knowledge, or ignorance, and for many years thereafter, all of us may be stuck with it," he wrote.

In light of this unsatisfactory situation, Mr. Garfinkel expressed the hope that classification officials throughout the government might learn that "government secrets, even intelligence secrets, are finite,"

and should be subject to ultimate declassification. A copy of the full report to Congress of the Interagency Working Group on Nazi War Crimes Disclosure, including Mr. Garfinkel's preface, is available here:


There are significant uncertainties associated with the design of the Reliable Replacement Warhead, the proposed new nuclear weapon, according to the JASON defense science advisory panel.

A copy of the unclassified executive summary of the new JASON report, first reported by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post on September 30, is here:

Related background is available in "Nuclear Weapons: The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program," Congressional Research Service, updated September 18, 2007:


U.S. Army intelligence has issued an updated version of its handbook on terrorism in the 21st century.

"The handbook is a high level terrorism primer that includes an overview of the history of terrorism, descriptions of terrorist behaviors and motivations, a review of terrorist group organizations, and the threat posed to our forces, both in the United States and overseas."

Two of the four supplements to the handbook, one on case studies in terrorism and one on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, have also been recently updated.

See "A Military Guide to Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century," U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, TRADOC Intelligence Support Activity -- Threats, Version 5.0, 15 August 2007:


Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service obtained by Secrecy News include the following.

"Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2007," updated September 12, 2007:

"The Military Commissions Act of 2006: Analysis of Procedural Rules and Comparison with Previous DOD Rules and the Uniform Code of Military Justice," updated September 27, 2007:

"Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1999-2006," September 26, 2007:

"Afghanistan: Narcotics and U.S. Policy," updated September 14, 2007:

"Syria: U.S. Relations and Bilateral Issues," updated September 19, 2007:

"Iraq: Regional Perspectives and U.S. Policy," updated September 12, 2007:

"Presidential Signing Statements: Constitutional and Institutional Implications," updated September 17, 2007:


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

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