Kenneth L. Wainstein, the former head of the Justice Department National Security Division, was named to the Public Interest Declassification Board by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Mr. Wainstein is a smart guy and an honorable public servant. But he is not the first or second person most people might think of to help advance “public interest declassification.” In fact, the records that he classified as a Justice Department official or as President Bush’s Homeland Security Advisor might well be the object of such declassification.
But then the Public Interest Declassification Board itself, which advises the White House on declassification policy, is dominated by former government officials, including several intelligence agency leaders. That has not prevented the Board from producing an important critique of declassification policy (Improving Declassification, 2008) and a more ambitious, somewhat less satisfactory report on classification policy (Transforming the Security Classification System, 2012).
“The members of the PIDB look forward to working with Mr. Wainstein as they continue their efforts to support a transformation of the security classification system,” the Board said in a blog posting.
A deeper problem is that the Obama White House appears to be incapable of acting on the recommendations from the Board, even though it requested them. Nearly a year has passed since the Board’s last report, and no response from the White House has been forthcoming. It’s not even clear who would be expected to respond– the National Security Advisor? the Homeland Security Advisor? the Director of National Intelligence (who also serves as “Security Executive Agent”)?
In the absence of effective White House action, Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and James E. Risch (R-ID) have introduced legislation that builds on the 2012 PIDB report “to facilitate and enhance the declassification of information that merits declassification” (S. 1464).