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Declassification and Transparency

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posted on Jul, 16 2010 @ 10:05 AM
On 20th of January 2009 Barack Obama became President of the United States. In his first few days in office Obama issued executive orders directing the U.S. military to develop plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, and ordered the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp "as soon as practicable and no later than" January 2010.

One of the other issues that was top of his list was the plan to reduce the secrecy given to Presidential records and change procedures to promote disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

He outlined his plan on 21st January...

Great news!

Obama issues 'Executive Order - Classified National Security Information' which is summarised below.

Obama set a four year deadline for declassifying documents going all the way back to the World War II era, as well as Vietnam and Korean wars. In the process of implementing this executive order, Obama cancelled an order given by George W. Bush that allowed the leader of the intelligence community to veto the declassification of documents so ordered by an interagency panel.

In the future agencies who object to certain information being declassified have to now appeal to the President himself. Because of course, who knows more about intelligence information, an intelligence official or Barack Obama? This statement from Obama’s Memorandum to agency heads:

I expect that the order will produce measurable progress towards greater openness and transparency in the Government’s classification and declassification programs while protecting the Government’s legitimate interests, and I will closely monitor the results. -

This was a good move forward by the Obama Administration, even if it did take them a year and a half (6 months for the EO to be initiated after it is proposed) to put their plan into action.

Under the Bush Administration the amount of declassifications had reduced dramatically. In fact, many documents were even re-classified in secrecy...

U.S. Reclassifies Many Documents in Secret Review

In a seven-year-old secret program at the National Archives, intelligence agencies have been removing from public access thousands of historical documents that were available for years, including some already published by the State Department and others photocopied years ago by private historians.

The restoration of classified status to more than 55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999, when the Central Intelligence Agency and five other agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release of sensitive information after a 1995 declassification order signed by President Bill Clinton. It accelerated after the Bush administration took office and especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to archives records. -

However, we should not be fooled by this apparent victory for freedom. A quick look at the amount of documents being released (per year) over the years shows that the decline is worse than you could imagine. Therefore any increase we do see thanks to Obama will only be one step in putting right what Bush sought to destroy.

All of the following statistics can be found here at the CIA's own website which has copies of all of the FOIA Annual Reports to Congress dating back to 1997.


Disposition of initial requests.
1. Number of total grants: 3188
2. Number of partial grants: 1652
3. Number of denials: 951

TOTAL: 4840


Disposition of initial requests.
1. Number of total grants: 2,503
2. Number of partial grants: 1,029
3. Number of denials: 821

TOTAL: 3532


Disposition of initial requests.
1. Number of total grants: 1,084
2. Number of partial grants: 1,287
3. Number of denials: 769

TOTAL: 2371


Disposition of initial requests.
1. Number of total grants: 502
2. Number of partial grants: 1,306
3. Number of denials: 594

TOTAL: 1808


Disposition of initial requests.
1. Number of total grants: 391
2. Number of partial grants: 999
3. Number of denials: 517



Disposition of initial requests.
1. Number of total grants: 422
2. Number of partial grants: 1,178
3. Number of denials: 537



Disposition of initial requests.
1. Number of total grants: 427
2. Number of partial grants: 1,242
3. Number of denials: 517



Disposition of initial requests.
1. Number of total grants: 334
2. Number of partial grants: 1,051
3. Number of denials: 605



1. Number of total grants: 267
2. Number of partial grants: 939
3. Number of denials: 495



1. Number of total grants: 344
2. Number of partial grants: 1,100
3. Number of denials: 586



1. Number of total grants: 237
2. Number of partial grants: 532

TOTAL: 796


1. Number of total grants: 363
2. Number of partial grants: 918

TOTAL: 1281

As you can see the decline is quite dramatic - from 4,840 in 1998 to an all time low of 796 in 2008. Thankfully there was an increase in 2009 (although that has nothing to do with Obamas new Executive Order which only went into operation last month) which could serve as an indication that more documents are on their way.

The 2010/11 FOIA Annual Reports to Congress should make for interesting reading and we should expect to see a marked increase in released documents thanks to Obamas new transparency stance. If there is not a significant increase then some serious questions need to be asked.

Having said this, average Americans need to shoulder some of the blame too. It is obvious that the decline in released information has a lot to do with the strict regulations imposed under Bush, but the amount of FOIA requests has also significantly decreased from 6,121 in 1998 to 2,863 in 2009.

We are so lucky to live in a society that allows freedoms such as these, N.Korea and China serving as sobering examples of why, so make sure you take full advantage of these precious opportunities.

If you don't ask you don't get

Oh, and a little reminder as to why declassifications are so important and interesting - Top 10 Declassified Secrets

posted on Jul, 16 2010 @ 10:09 AM
The presidential campaign is like watching the macho men go into a bar and lie to women to get some action.

One day the American people will realize that the answer was given in Wargames in 1983.

posted on Jul, 16 2010 @ 11:02 AM
reply to post by zroth

I'm sorry, I don't understand what that has to do with the thread, have I missed something?

posted on Jul, 17 2010 @ 07:36 AM

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Marcia Hofmann has a report card on transparent government measures undertaken by the Obama administration on its first day in office. The news is pretty damned good: they've reversed Ashcroft's restrictions on Freedom of Information Act requests as well as changes to the Presidential Records Act, and have adopted general principles on transparency and open government.

According to Obama's memo: "All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA."

This statement is almost certainly meant to address a controversial memo issued by John Ashcroft in the wake of 9/11, which ordered agencies to disclose information only after considering all possible reasons to withhold it, and assured them that government lawyers would defend their decisions in court unless they had no "sound legal basis." Many open government advocates believe Ashcroft's policy effectively gutted the FOIA over the past several years. Today's memo doesn't explicitly reverse that policy, but directs the incoming attorney general to issue new FOIA guidelines to agencies "reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency." This is a big step in the right direction.

The memo doesn't stop there. It goes on to say: "The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and down by their Government. Disclosure should be timely."

This last part (BOLD) I think is most important. At the moment all FOIA requests need to be done 'manually', as it where, by writing a letter to the Information and Privacy Coordinator at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Surely in this day and age there is a quicker and easier way to send a request - electronically via the internet perhaps? There have been requests that have taken years, literally years, to be processed and this archaic system must be to blame.

Then there are the fees. Just another obstacle to navigate and something that very often becomes a stumbling block for a lot of requests.

You shouldn't let these things put you off

posted on Dec, 7 2010 @ 12:48 PM
I'm just giving this a bit of a bump in light of recent developments regarding Wikileaks, just as a reminder that average Joe's like you and I are also capable of forcing the governments hand regarding the release of specific documentation.

Let's not rely too heavily on good old Mr Assange

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