from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2007, Issue No. 116
November 30, 2007

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The Central Intelligence Agency anticipates declining productivity in its declassification program, according to a newly disclosed declassification plan.

Between 1995 and 2006, CIA reviewed nearly 97 million pages of 25 year old documents and released 30 million pages, the Agency reported. But that level of activity is unlikely to be sustained.

"Resource constraints limit our ability to implement the detailed -- and expensive -- review intrinsic to a redaction strategy [in which individual words or passages are deleted from a particular page] and drive us in the direction of a document-level pass-fail system [in which an entire document is either fully released or fully withheld], which significantly reduces the number of documents that can be released."

Nor is CIA willing to permit other government agencies to review its records for possible release, which would be one way to optimize the declassification process.

"CIA has no plans to delegate broad declassification authority to other government agencies. In fact, CIA has rescinded past arrangements under which it delegated limited declassification authority to NARA," the CIA declassification plan noted.

In a previously unreported step that further limits disclosure, the CIA has devised a new loophole in the automatic declassification requirements of the executive order on classification policy.

In CIA's reading, a 25 year old document is not considered "historically valuable," and therefore subject to automatic declassification, unless and until it is no longer in use. But if the document is still in active use, the CIA says, it does not qualify as historically valuable for purposes of declassification no matter how historically significant it may be.

"Surveys of records in the D/CIA and the Directorate of Intelligence areas indicate that certain of these records, while containing pre-1982 materials, are still in use and therefore remain unretired." Such records, CIA says, will only be subject to automatic declassification requirements "when and if [they] are retired permanently."

"Many of CIA's methods, techniques, and operations over 25 years old are still active," the plan notes. "In some cases, currently inactive sources and methods may be reactivated."

The CIA Declassification Plan was submitted to the Information Security Oversight Office in April 2006. It was approved for release in October 2007 with limited redactions in response to a request from researcher Michael Ravnitzky. A copy of the document is here:


The President's Daily Brief (PDB), a highly classified intelligence report prepared daily for the President of the United States, "is the quintessential predecisional, deliberative document," the Central Intelligence Agency argued recently in court, claiming that virtually nothing about it can be made public even after several decades have passed.

But a 1970 memorandum disclosed this week at the Nixon Library sets aside any such reticence and provides a detailed look at the preparation, evaluation and reception of the PDB.

Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archive, who litigated a Freedom of Information Act case earlier this year seeking access to historical PDBs, expressed surprise at the new release.

"What is most amazing is that one day they say the method of producing [the PDB] is so secret that nothing about the document can be disclosed, and then not long after they release this detailed, hour by hour explanation of how it is produced," she said.

The 1970 memorandum, written by Andrew Marshall for Henry Kissinger, describes strengths and weaknesses in the PDB process, and proposals for improvement.

But the biggest "secret" about the Daily Brief may be what Marshall described as "the widely shared suspicion that the President does not ever read the CIA PDBs."

As for the selection process that determines what to include in the PDB, Mr. Marshall wrote in his Top Secret Codeword report, "It is derived... to a large extent, I believe, from a sense of what's timely as judged from the New York Times, press, and wire service coverage."

See the "Evaluation of the Process Leading to the President's Morning Intelligence Reading Package," memorandum for Henry A. Kissinger from A.W. Marshall, March 18, 1970 (13 MB PDF file):

Selected other declassified documents from the Nixon Library released this week are here:

Background on PDBs including previous releases and recent litigation in which an appeals court upheld the denial of two Vietnam-era Briefs is available from the National Security Archive here:


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

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