On December 31st, 2006, hundreds of millions of documents will be automatically declassified and made available to the public. Following a law inacted
by former President Clinton, and enforced by President Bush, any classified document that does not have its classified status extended will become
Free Information after 25 years. Of the documents waiting to be released, 270 million of them will be from the FBI. The documents are expected to shed
light on everything from the Cold War to Watergate, and the sheer volume of material is expected to take generations of scholars to sift through.
Several hundred million pages will be declassified at midnight on Dec. 31, including 270 million pages at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which
has lagged most agencies in reviews.
J. William Leonard, who oversees declassification as head of the Information Security Oversight Office at the National Archives, said the threat that
secret files might be made public without a security review had sent a useful chill through the bureaucracy.
“Unfortunately, you sometimes need a two-by-four to get agencies to pay attention,” Mr. Leonard said. “Automatic declassification was
essentially that two-by-four.”
What surprises await in the documents is impossible to predict.
“It is going to take a generation for scholars to go through the material declassified under this process,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs a
project on government secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists.
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This could be both a blessing and a bane, depending on what gets released. While joyously discussing this with a friend, they mentioned the
possibility of critical secrets slipping through the cracks due to a lack of classified status extension, and falling into terrorists hands. While I
agree, this is a risk, I feel that Freedom of Information has a price, and that price is sometimes that bad things will come of it. Society will
ultimately decide how much information they want to be free and how much they'd rather not know.
, I see this as a call to arms for all ATS members. They say it will take generations of scholars to sift through it all. I say
we have thousands of scholars right here on ATS. If there isn't already a group on ATS dedicated to sifting through FOIA materials, there should be.
Anyone want to organize a combing program so we can search this stuff intelligently, instead of haphazardly? This is a golden opportunity, and we have
no way of knowing what juicy incredible finds will be out there, only briefly, and then immediately found and reclassified.
I shiver with anticipation.
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State Department final FOIA response in the mail today