Anyone can purchase a copy of the 1958 Department of Defense “Emergency Plans Book,” an early cold war description of response planning for a nuclear attack on the United States. It is available for sale through Amazon.com and elsewhere under the somewhat lurid title “The Doomsday Scenario” (Motorbooks International, 2002).
But don’t look for it at the National Archives, where author L. Douglas Keeney originally obtained it in 1997, because it is no longer there. It is among the thousands of government documents that have been reclassified and withdrawn from public access.
“When I returned in 2005 for another round of research in the Secretary of the Air Force Files, RG [record group] 340, the boxes were decimated,” Mr. Keeney told Secrecy News. “100% of the documents I retrieved 9 years ago were gone.”
In their place, he found a “withdrawal notice” (pdf) of the sort that has been quietly proliferating at the National Archives. An official stamp ironically certifies that the withdrawal notice itself is declassified and may be safely disclosed.
The documents in this case were removed from public access in 1997, near the beginning of the ongoing reclassification process that has undermined the integrity of the National Archives.
If it cannot be halted and reversed, bureaucratically-driven reclassification threatens to reduce the Archives to a mere repository of officially-sanctioned history.
“Those who control the past control the future, Orwell famously wrote in ‘1984’,” recalled Fred Kaplan in an article in Slate that supplied some of the back story of the reclassification initiative.
See “Secret Again: The absurd scheme to reclassify documents” by Fred Kaplan, Slate, February 23.
The continuing assault on history was also reported in “U.S. reclassifies government memos” by Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, February 24.
“This effort to stuff this harmless toothpaste back into the tube would be funny if it weren’t so emblematic of a disturbing new culture of government secrecy,” a Washington Post editorial opined. See “Classifying Toothpaste,” February 27.