from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2017, Issue No. 53
July 17, 2017
Secrecy News Blog: https://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/
NSA RECORDS LANGUISH AT NATIONAL ARCHIVES FOR NOW
Last year, the National Archives (NARA) acquired a large number of historically valuable National Security Agency records. But they remain inaccessible to researchers, at least for the time being.
David Langbart of NARA described the situation at a closed meeting of the State Department Historical Advisory Committee late last year. According to recently published minutes of that meeting:
"The [NSA] records consist of approximately 19,000 folders without any real arrangement. These records mostly consist of technical, analytical, historical, operational, and translation reports and related materials. Most of the records date from the period from the 1940s to the 1960s, but there are also documents from the 1920s and 1930s and even earlier. The NSA reviewed the records for declassification before accessioning and most documents and folder titles remain classified. Langbart concluded that the finding aid prepared by NSA was the only practical way to locate documents of interest for researchers, but it is 557 pages long and is classified."
The National Archives confirmed that this description remains accurate today.
So not only are these thousands of half-century-old records still classified or otherwise unavailable, but the finding aid that would enable researchers to locate specific documents of interest is itself a classified document.
The Federation of American Scientists asked NSA officials to voluntarily declassify the 557-page finding aid as a first step towards making the NARA collection useful to researchers.
They agreed to do so.
"We can have a redacted version for you by September," wrote Dr. David J. Sherman of NSA. "We of course will provide one to NARA as well."
Dr. Sherman noted that the collection includes documents of widely varying complexity. "Judging by their titles, some almost certainly require significant training in mathematics and engineering to understand. Others appear to have been written for more general audiences."
Furthermore, although the collection as a whole is maintained as classified, "just under one third of the folders appear to be unclassified in full," he estimated.
Under the circumstances, classifying the entire set of records along with its descriptive catalog was obviously not optimal, he agreed.
"I take the point about this foreclosing any possibility for researchers to know what might be available in the collection and agree it is something we should have addressed in this instance and need to fix in the future," Dr. Sherman said.
Therefore, he added, "in any similar situations in the future -- i.e. ones where we are transferring large, mixed collection such as this -- we'll make it standard practice to consider whether the percentage of unclassified materials is high enough to provide NARA with a redacted finding aid at the time of the transfer."
A GUIDE TO PARLIAMENTARY INFORMATION ONLINE
Parliaments around the world have moved online, placing legislative information and other resources on public-facing websites. Fifty countries' parliamentary websites -- of differing degrees of depth and sophistication -- were surveyed in a new publication from the Law Library of Congress.
"While the information on the parliamentary websites is primarily in the national language of the particular country, around forty of the individual websites surveyed were found to provide at least limited information in one or more other languages," the Law Library report said.
"All of the parliamentary websites included in the survey have at least basic browse tools that allow users to view legislation in a list format, and that may allow for viewing in, for example, date or title order."
"Around thirty-nine of the individual websites surveyed provide users with some form of tracking or alert function to receive updates on certain documents (including proposed legislation), parliamentary news, committee activities, or other aspects of the website."
Unlike the United States Congress, which does not yet provide public access to most products of its Congressional Research Service, many of the websites portrayed in the new report do offer online access to their legislative research services. These include the Islamic Parliament Research Center of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Oireachtas Library & Research Service of Ireland, and the Research and Information Center of the Israeli Knesset, to name a few.
See Features of Parliamentary Websites in Selected Jurisdictions, Law Library of Congress, Global Legal Research Center, July 2017.
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
The Secrecy News blog is at:
To SUBSCRIBE to Secrecy News, go to:
To UNSUBSCRIBE, go to:
OR email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org
Secrecy News is archived at:SUPPORT the FAS Project on Government Secrecy with a donation here: