UNCLASSIFIEDThis report is intended solely for the official use of the Department of State, or any agency or organization receiving a copy directly from the Office of Inspector General. No secondary distribution may be made outside the Department of State by them or by other agencies or organizations in whole or in part, without prior authorization by the Inspector General. Public availability of the document will be determined by the Inspector General under the U.S. Code, 5 U.S.C. 552.
United States Department of State
Office of Inspector General
Security and Intelligence Oversight Audit Report
DECLASSIFYING STATE DEPARTMENT SECRETSSIO/A-98-50
United States Department of State
U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
United States Information Agency
Broadcasting Board of Governors
The Inspector General
PREFACEThis report was prepared by the Office of Inspector General in fulfillment of our responsibilities mandated by the Inspector General Act of 1978, as amended, Section 209 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, the Arms Control and Disarmament Amendments Act of 1987, and the DepartmeInt of State and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, FY 1996. It is one of a series of audit, inspection, investigative, and special reports issued by my office as part of our continuing efforts to promote positive change in the U.S Department of State, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the U.S. Information Agency, including the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and to identify and prevent waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.
The report is the result of a careful effort to assess both the strengths and weaknesses of the post, office, or function under review. It draws heavily on interviews with employees of cognizant agencies and institutions, and reflects extensive study of relevant documents.
The recommendations included in the report have been developed on the basis of the best knowledge available to the Office of Inspector General and have been discussed in draft with the offices responsible for implementing them. It is our hope that these recommendations will result in more effective and efficient operations.
I wish to express my appreciation to all of the employees and other persons who cooperated in the review documented by this report.
Jaquelyn L. Williams-Bridgers
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) audited the State Department's implementation of selected aspects of Executive Order 12958, "Classified National Security Information" (April 17, 1995), at the request of Congressman David E. Skaggs. The Order signals a significant departure in the way the Federal Government identifies and withholds information for national security reasons. The Order substantially reduces the level of secrecy under which the Government conducts business. The report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy (the Moynihan Commission) issued on March 3, 1997, also recommended more openness in the post cold war era to enhance the public trust in its Government by overhauling the classification and personnel security systems.
OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
OFFICE OF SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE OVERSIGHT
DECLASSIFYING STATE DEPARTMENT SECRETS
A central part of the Order calls for automatic declassification of all classified documents (up to and including the top secret level) 25 years old or older. Virtually all documents retained 25 years or longer are considered to be of historical significance. Agency reviews of their classified holdings are critical because the Order states that all historical classified information will be automatically declassified whether or not the records have been reviewed by April 17, 2000 (5 years after the signing of the Order). Agencies can request exemptions from the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) for large groups of records (known as file series) that they consider to be particularly sensitive, or agencies can identify specific documents that should remain classified to protect the national security. The Department has requested exemptions for only two file series of its historical documents.
OIG has completed its audit of the Department's declassification efforts. The Department has implemented its declassification program in an exemplary fashion and is on target to meet the deadline established by the order.
The Department has released about 97 percent of 48.7 million pages reviewed thus far. The 3 percent (1.5 million) that have not been declassified are mostly those documents that reference Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) equities. Only 0.6 percent of the reviewed documents were exempt from declassification while 2.1 percent were referred to CIA and 0.3 percent were referred to other agencies. The documents were referred because other agencies may consider information contained in the documents requires continued protection. In accordance with the Order, Department reviewers automatically refer these documents to the affected agencies. We were told by State and CIA officials that the Agency had not yet begun to review these documents for purposes of declassification due to higher priority work The CIA is just beginning to identify from its classified holdings those documents that contain State Department equities, which makes it difficult for the Department to determine its declassification workload.
The Department is generally considered by cognizant authorities such as ISOO and the State Department Advisory Committee on Diplomatic Documentation (Historical Advisory Committee [HAC]) as having one of the best--if not the best--declassification programs in the Federal Government. ISOO, which oversees the security classification programs in both Government and industry and reports to the President annually on their status, stated in their 1997 report to the Secretary of State that "the Department of State has established a highly successful program for the implementation of the automatic declassification provisions of E.O. 12958. They [the Department] are to be commended for their efforts. We have no specific recommendation to make except to encourage them to persevere in a job well done." The HAC reviews records, advises the Department, and makes recommendations to the Secretary of State concerning the official documentary historical record of major foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity of the US. Government. The HAC stated in its 1997 report that "the Department of State has set a standard for systematic declassificafion review of the archival records that is, so far, the best in the government." The Department's performance demonstrates that the declassification provisions of the Order are obtainable.
Although the Department has been a leader in government efforts at declassification this OIG review identified opportunities to implement the Order in a more economical and efficient manner. Specifically OIG found the following:
OIG recommends that the Undersecretary for Management use overcomplement foreign service officers to reduce the Department's reliance on using retired annuitants as declassifiers.
- Since the inception of the Order (April 1995), the Department has spent about $5 million to implement the declassification program, and estimates another $4 million will be required to comply with the Order through Fiscal Year 2000. Thereafter about $1 million will be needed each year to review classified documents that become 25 years old or are referred to the Department from other agencies. Thus far most costs have been salaries paid to retired annuitants performing the declassification reviews. OIG determined that overcomplement foreign service officers could be assigned to perform this function mitigating the hiring of contractors (see page 5) resulting in savings of up to $3.5 million by the year 2000 and more thereafter, depending on the number of overcomplement employees used.
OIG recommends that the Undersecretary for Management coordinate with senior CIA management to facilitate the declassification of documents that reference agency phrases and acronyms.
- OIG questions the need to continue the classification of approximately half of the Departments records referred to CIA (about 500,000 pages). The documents were referred because the phrase "controlled American source" or merely the "CAS" acronym is in the document. According to CIA guidelines the use of "CAS" is releasable provided it is not linked to a specific overseas location, operation, activity, or individual; the fact of the existence of the CIA presence in specific foreign countries during a defined and limited period may be acknowledged, but additional details remain for the most part classified. The release of all such references requires specific approval of the CIA. The Department's Historical Advisory Committee reported to the Secretary of State that such references made in historical Department documents are usually quite innocuous. OIG concurs with the committee's finding (see page 7).
OIG recommends that the Undersecretary for Management reassess the Department's declassification guidelines and their application to facilitate the declassification of documents that are of questionable sensitivity.
- OIG questions some of the 0.6 percent of Department documents (about 300,000 pages) that were exempted by reviewers. The Department has detailed guidance for reviewers to use in making declasification decisions. In some instances the guidance is country speeffic. While Department reviewers were adhering to the guidance OIG questions that some of the application of the guidance by reviewers is not consistent with the Order. Some of the records were exempt from declassification because they reference military relationships with certain countries that may be generally understood but not formally acknowledged by the United States or foreign governments, or an intelligence presence may have been officially acknowledged by the United States but documents that obliquely reference such activities are exempt. In OIG's view, such exemptions are not valid. OIG recognizes that there may be sensitive documents that if released and widely disseminated could pose a threat to lives, intelligence sources, and relations with other nations, but we found few compelling examples of this (see page 8).
Agency Comments These findings were discussed with officials from the Department's Bureau of Administration, Office of Information Resources Management Programs and Services. The Bureau's written comments are included in this report (see Appendix B). The Bureau took some exception with our three recommendations although not explicitly disagreeing with them. OIG addresses each of the comments in the appropriate section of the report.
OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
OFFICE OF SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE OVERSIGHT
DECLASSIFYING STATE DEPARTMENT SECRETS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. OBJECTIVES, SCOPE, AND METHODOLOGY
III. FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
A. The Department's Declassification Program
B. Department Exemptions From Declassification and Referrals to Other Agencies
APPENDIX A: DECLASSIFICATION EXEMPTION CATEGORIES
APPENDIX B: AGENCY COMMENTS
The purpose of this audit was to determine if the Department of State was complying with the EO 12958 (April 1995) provisions for the automatic declassification of classified documents 25 years old or older, as requested by Congressman Skaggs. The Congressman also was interested in OIG determining 1) if the Department was initially making fewer classification decisions and reducing its quantity of classified documents, and 2) if significant savings would result from implementing the Order. OIG has not begun a review of these other issues. We also sought to determine if the declassification program was operating in an economical and effective manner. We interviewed officials from the Department's Bureau of Administration (A), Bureau of Personnel (PER), and Bureau of Public Affairs (PA). We also interviewed officials from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Secretary's Historical Advisory Committee (HAC), and Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). We reviewed pertinent regulations, program guidance, and financial data.
I. OBJECTIVES, SCOPE, AND METHODOLOGY
To determine the appropriateness of exemptions and referrals, OIG reviewed 63 Department records that reviewers exempted from declassification or referred to other agencies for declassification. We did not review records that had been declassified because the focus of the audit was to determine the appropriateness of exempting records. Our review of records was performed to obtain examples of exempted and referred records, not to develop a statistically valid representation of the estimated 1.5 million records that have been exempted or referred to other agencies. OIG reviewed records and interviewed declassifiers at the Department's Records Service Center (RSC) in Newington, Virginia and at NARA in College Park, Maryland. Records were randomly selected from boxes of documents covering different historical periods, geographic locations, and subject matter. For example, we pulled our examples from boxes of records from the years 1950 through 1954 located at NARA and from boxes of records from various missions such as Embassy Madrid 1968 or Embassy Berlin 1969-70, which were located at the RSC. In addition to 55 randomly selected records, declassifiers provided OIG with 8 records of their own choosing that they believed clearly required continued classification due to the harm to national security that would ensue if released. The audit field work was performed in Washington, DC, between January and June 1998. The audit was conducted in accordance with generally accepted Government auditing standards. OIG staff members conducting the audit were James Martino (audit manager), Thomas Hoots, and Ann Hogan.
In April 1995 President Clinton signed Executive Order 12958 which stipulates that records over 25 years old will be presumed declassified by April 17, 2000, unless an agency acts to keep them classified based on exemptions provided in the Order. Prior to the Order there were no requirements for the automatic declassification of older information. The records subject to the Order are those designated as national security information at the classification level of "confidential," "secret,"or "top secret." The Order acknowledges that there are indeed records that should not be released for national security reasons and should be properly protected. The Department's Records and Publishing Services Office of Information Resources Programs and Services (A/RPS/IPS) is responsible for reviewing and declassifying the Department's records as required by the Order.
The stated intent of the Order was that it should result in large scale declassification not dependent on the availability of individuals, to conduct line-by-line reviews. The Order sought to avoid such a process. However, some agencies nonetheless have proceeded to do that sort of detailed and time consuming review and redact information deemed too sensitive to declassify. Other agencies have successfully used high volume sampling techniques to identify the most sensitive material and then declassified large amounts of material in bulk. The Department uses a hybrid method where reviewers handle each piece of historical material but do not read every line. The Department has opted to take a "pass/fail" approach in that documents are either released in total or exempt from declassification altogether. The Department estimates that about 48.7 million pages were reviewed as of June 1998 with about another 12.9 million awaiting review by the 2000 deadline.
There are at present roughly 100,000,000 pages of permanent, classified information (including those 25 years old and older) that will eventually be subject to declassification (OIG estimate based on A assumptions about document holdings. Officials stated that the typical classified document averages three pages of text.). OIG estimates that over 90 percent of the classified documents are derived from original classification decisions or are simply copies of classified documents. Thus declassifiers are burdened by repeatedly reviewing copies of documents that may have previously been declassified. The following chart depicts an OIG estirnate of the Department's classified paper holdings and their locations as of April 1998.
LOCATION OF DEPARTMENT PERMANENT CLASSIFIED HOLDINGS1
Location Pages (millions) Central Files2 17.3 Overseas Posts (annually) 4.3 Headquarters Offices 2.6 Records Service Center3 32.0 Washington National Records Center4 42.0 Total 98.2
________________________OIG estimates that the Department produces approximately 7 million pages of historical records annually, which is only 3 percent of the estimated 230 million pages of Department documents produced each year. The Archivist of the United States, in consultation with the agencies, approves a schedule of record series that must be preserved. Once the historical documents become 30 years old they are required to be transferred from the various originating agencies to NARA. The major types of permanent historical documents for the Department include all records from the principal officers and deputy principal officers of U.S. missions, and from the posts' political and economic sections; and records from the office of the Secretary of State and Assistant Secretaries. The declassifiers etimate that about 75 percent of the Department's historical records am classified.
1. These figures are OIG estimates calculated by using Department assessments of records holdings. These figures are only to illustrate the quauntity of Department classified records. These estimates do not take into account smaller record files of certain security and intelligence files and e-mail data bases that do not contain 25- year-old information but that will eventually contain historical records.
2. Central Files is an electronic data base of records such as cable traffic maintained at Department headquarters.
3. The Records Service Center is the Department's warehouse facility in Newington, Virginia, used for storing retired records including those that will ultimately be destroyed and those that will be preserved as historical documents.
4. The Washington National Records Center is a NARA facility in Suitland, Maryland, used to store Department retired records including visa and passport files and records that will ultimately become the property of the National Archives.
Official records of the Department (both classified and unclassified) are stored for predetermined periods of time and then destroyed or preserved permanently based on the Department's record disposition schedule. For example some security records are destroyed after 1 year, financial records after 3 years, and passport records are maintained for 100 years.
Document categories that have been determined by the Archivist of the United States as having historical significance must be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) by the originating agencies once the documents are 30 years old and are then preserved permanently.
The Order does not authorize NARA to declassify information created by another agency without prior consent of the agency. In addition the Department has thousands of documents that were originated by other agencies or contain information that other agencies have equities in. In such cases agencies must alert the originating agency and seek insiructions on the handling and disposition of these classified records.
The procedures for processing documents with other agency equities is burdensome. Documents must be marked, copied, packaged, and securely transported; this is repeated for every record that contains another agency's equities, and in many cases the records contain multiple agencies' equities. Further complicating matters, there are no deadlines by which agencies must respond to such referrals, resulting in lengthy delays before a review is completed and information released to the public.
Congress is considering legislation (The Goverment Secrecy Act of 1997, S.712 and H.R. 1546) which would establish a statutory scheme for classification and declassification. In effect the legislation would replace the current Presidential Executive Order with a statutory structure which provides for greater Congressional oversight. In brief the proposed legislation would reduce the quantity of classified information by limiting its creation at the point of origin, by placing stricter limits on its duration, and by accelerating the declassification process.
The proposed legislation would establish a National Declassification Center which would facilitate the declassification of documents by providing a formal mechanism for greater oversight and coordination of agency declassification efforts. The role of such a center could include advising agencies in conducting interagency reviews and establishing and maintaining a goverment-wide declassification database, as called for in the Order.
A. THE DEPARTMENT'S DECLASSIFICATION PROGRAM
III. FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The cost to staff the Department's declassification program is greater than necessary. The Department has relied on using retired annuitants yet there are overcomplement foreign service officers that are available at no additional cost which could reduce the funding needed to operate the program. Since 1995 the Department has spent about $5.0 million and estimates another $4.0 million will be needed through 2000 using retired personnel. Additionally, once the Department has reached the goal of declassifying records 25 years old or older, the Department will be required by the Order to annually declassify records that become 25 years old. Based on workload estimates and current costs, the OIG estimates that this will cost an estimated $1 million every year.
The Department primarily uses former senior foreign service officers to review its records for declassification determinations. The rationale for using high ranking personnel is that the declassification work requires a significant amount of knowledge about foreign affairs and diplomacy in order to make informed judgments.
As of June 1998, the Department had reviewed approximately 35 million pages (86 percent) of the 40.7 million in the Department's custody. The remaining 5.7 million pages need to be reviewed by 2000. In addition there are 20.9 million pages of records at other institutions such as the National Archives, Presidential Libraries, and the Library of Congress that are also subject to the Order; approximately 13.7 million of these pages have been reviewed by the Department or by the institutions using Department guidance. The remaining 7.2 million pages need to be reviewed by 2000.
Also other agencies are referring documents with State Department equities to the Department for review. However, other agencies, particularly the CIA, have only provided the Department with a nominal amount of referrals. We were told by Department officials that they have received about 12,000 documents as of June 1998 but anticipate there are substantially more Department equities in CIA records. CIA was just beginning to review its historical records and it is unclear how many documents may be referred to the Department, but the quantity could be very substantial. If the Department receives referrals in substantial quantities close to the deadline, the Deparunent may not be able to review the referrals before the deadline and the documents would be automatically declassified.
Overcomplement foreign service officers (officers who do not have assigned positions) are available and qualified to do records declassification reviews. Overcomplement officers are typically assigned by the Bureau of Personnel to different bureaus to temporarily work on projects until they are reassigned permanent positions. The OIG recommended and the Bureau of Personnel agreed to assign overcomplement officers to the Department's declassification program. OIG was informed that on the average there were 10 senior foreign service officers (ambassador and deputy chief of mission rank) available for about 3 months at any one time for temporary projects until they are permanently assigned. However, there is a wide range of time overcomplement officers remain unassigned to permanent positions. Some officers have remained unassigned for a year. There are also other overcomplement officers who, although they do not have the rank of ambassador or deputy chief of mission, would be qualified to perform as a declassification reviewer.
The Department stated it would be pleased to work closely with the Bureau of Personnel to identify officers suitable for and genuinely committed to one-year assignments as declassification reviewers, and that a one-year commitment is essential. The Department also stated that it usually takes two months of on-the-job-training before a reviewer is up to par. The Department expressed reservations that overcomplement foreign service officers could be used as declassifiers because the assignment was not considered career enhancing.
OIG recongizes that the assignment may not be viewed as highly desirable by foreign service officers, yet the fact that the employees are in an overcomplement status is not desirable from a career standpoint either. OIG concluded, and the Bureau of Personnel agreed, that overcomplement staff could be made available until permanent assignments are identified.
OIG does not agree that a two month training period is necessary or that a minimum one year commitment is essentiaL The Department's three year experience with automatic declassification has resulted in only a three per cent deferral rate and OIG found little evidence that those documents posed a threat to US security if released. Therefore the potential danger of documents being inappropriately released is negligible, regardless of the experience and training of any given reviewer. In addition, the Department has provided detailed guidance for declassifiers to refer to when questions arise. The cost avoidances that can be realized should outweigh any productivity losses that might occur by using temporary overcomplernent officers.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The Department has effectively implemented the declassification provision of the Order, and should complete its review by the 2000 deadline. As of now it is unclear what effect agency referrals will have on the workload. Using overcomplement officers as declassifiers in place of retired annuitants would provide resources to the declassification program at substantially reduced costs. Savings of up to $3.5 million could be realized by 2000 if only active duty personnel were assigned to perform as declassifiers, and up to $1 million annually thereafter.
We recommend that the Undersecretary for Management:
1. Use overcomplement foreign service officers to reduce the Department's use of retired annuitants as declassifiers.
B. DEPARTMENT EXEMPTIONS FROM DECLASSIFICATION AND REFERRALS TO OTHER. AGENCIES
The Department has released the vast majority of its historical classified records, yet OIG believes that even more could be declassified. OIG concluded that about half of the documents referred to CIA could be routinely declassified and that some of the documents the Department has exempted do not clearly pose a danger to national security if they were released. These documents were exempted or referred because Department and CIA application of their declassification guidelines did not permit their declassification.
The Department has made public 97 percent of the approximately 48.7 million pages of historically significant information reviewed. These records have been released in total without redactions to their content. The number of records the Department has exempted from declassification or referred to other agencies is proportionately quite small, approximately 1.5 million pages, yet illustrative of the nature of secrecy in Department operations because the subject matter is viewed as requiring continued protection from public disclosure, although over 25 years old.
OIG's review of 63 exempt and referred documents indicates the intelligence community tends to resist extensive declassification because of the opinion that information-- even previously acknowledged or generally known through unclassified sources-- might be useful to adversaries intent on countering U.S. intelligence operations or discourage cooperation in future operations.
A careful analysis of the exempt and referred documents could prove useful to the Department in establishing classification guides. The Department has established and applied extensive guides for declassification but has not established guides to facilitate the proper and uniform derivative classification of information. Although not the subject of this review, the establishment of classification guides is required by the Order (Sec. 2.3).
Reviewing documents on a case-by-case basis for purposes of assessing the harm that might ensue if released is not a precise science and largely dependent on the individual reviewer's interpretation of the guidance and perception of the subject matter's sensitivity. Conceptually the Order acknowledges that there are clearly secrets that must be maintained over a very extended period but the exemption categories (see Appendix A) require interpretation. Perhaps the most compelling reasons not to declassify have to do with protecting the names of individuals--both US. citizens and foreign nationals--whose lives would be threatened if the nature of their association with US officials were known; or releasing information that would violate a trust or agreement with individuals or foreign governments diminishing the government's credibility in conducting foreign policy with adversaries and allies allke. In some instances information should not be disclosed if it violates other legislation such as the Privacy Act. While OIG supports the exemption of records that fall into the categories mentioned above, there is a scarcity of such clear-cut examples.
Under section 3.4(b) of the Order, an agency head may exempt from automatic declassification specific information, if the release of the documents is expected to harm the national security. The Order specifies nine exemptions. Department reviewers informed us that the Department's exemptions virtually have always fallen into three of the nine categories where releasing the documents would be expected to: (exemption #1) .. reveal an intelligence source, method, or activity, (exemption #6)...damage relations between the United States and a foreign government, or seriously undermine diplomatic activities, or (exemption #9) ... violate a statute, treaty, or international agreement.
According to CIA declassification guidance, records that refer to intelligence operations in foreign countries must be referred to the CIA for declassification.
Approximately half of the 1 million pages of domunents referred to CIA were done so because the phrase "controlled American source" or its acronym (CAS) were contained in the doument; or the document contained a routing slip that referenced an organizational entity at a U.S. mission that might be construed as an intelligence organization under cover. According to the State Department Historical Advisory Committee such references are usually quite innocuous and unclassified. OIG agrees with this assessment based on our review of a sample of "CAS" referrals. In two instances a document pertaining to Guatemala referenced a "controlled American source" yet the CIA had already declassified information pertaining to covert operations in that country. If the Department and CIA were to agree that such references need not be grounds for exemption the Department could immediately start to declassify thousands of additional documents and significantly reduce the time and cost required searching through Department records for such CIA references; marking the documents; and securely forwarding the documents.
Some documents verify military relationships with certain countries that may be generally understood but have not been formally acknowledged. Other documents could prove embarrassing to certain foreign governments or U.S. officials; others were not released because there were historical agreements between the United States and certain countries that the information would be withheld for 50 years or longer. The Order states that in such cases the Department should confer with the foreign governments before releasing the documents. OIG recognizes there may be sensitive documents that if released and widely disseminated could pose a threat to lives, intelligence sources, and relations with other nations, but we found no compelling examples of this.
Approximately 80 percent of documents the Department exempts relate to damaging U.S. foreign relations. The Department's declassification guidelines point out that this exemption requires the most thought and judgment on the part of the reviewers. Reasons for excluding documents from declassification include criticism of sitting monarchs and politicians, foreign government information, sensitive relations with third parties, storage of weapons of mass destruction, and almost every aspect of diplomatic relations with foreign powers that could prove embarrassing to either the U.S. Government or foreign governments. Department reviewers have exempted documents in accordance with the Department's declassification guidelines, yet OIG questions the need to continue the classification of these documents. The following documents may be perceived as embarrassing to U.S. or foreign officials yet we question that the release of the documents would be "damaging" to foreign relations and therefore do not meet the standard for exemption stated in the Order. The context of the exempt documents is as follows:
- References made to royal families by U.S. envoys. One exempted document referenced statements made about the succession of then Prince Juan Carlos to the throne of Spain, since he remains King of Spain.
- Another document discussed the American Embassy in Bangkok's assessment of the Thai government's commitment to the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO).
- A document related to Embassy Madrid's emergency action plan was referred for privacy/ FOIA reasons.
- Documents related to the Saudi royal family were exempt as a matter of policy so as not to offend Saudi sensibilities.
- Documents related to unresolved tensions between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus.
- Discussions of both India and Pakistan and the U.S. cooperation with both governments.
- Documents that discuss the US position in the conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom.
- References to King Hussein.
The Department stated that Department entities such as the Historian's office and Records and Publishing Services staff have been discussing declassification issues and attempting to accelerate the process. The HAC has also been involved. The Department's response also indicated that CIA is sensitive to criticisms from the Department and the public of its declassification efforts, and that modest progress is being made. OIG determined that further and more substantive progress could be made if senior Department management were to engage CIA on how to facilitate the declassification of certain documents.
The Department also questioned the accuracy and fairness of the OIG statement that about 500,000 of the approximately 1 million pages of documents referred to CIA are basically innocuous and could be declassified. The Department stated that this conjecture seems based more on anecdotal evidence than on rigorous analysis. The OIG determination of 500,000 was an estimate, and may actually be either somewhat higher or lower. OIG's level of analysis in support of this finding was appropriate and based on the fact that the HAC made the same conclusion based on its own research and reported this to the Secretary of State. OIG's concurrence with this estimate was based on discussions with 10 of 17 current dedassifiers and a discussion with one CIA declassifier. In addition OIG's random sample of exempt documents from the years 1950 to 1954 found that 10 of 21 documents were referred to CIA explicitly and solely because of the "CAS" reference.
With regard to recommendation 3, the Department stated that the recommendation to facilitate the declassification of documents that were exempt from declassification is "a reasonable one."
Conclusions And Recommendations
The process of identifying CIA equities has become one of the major activities of the Department's declassifiers. Using Department figures, we estimate that about 70 percent of documents that Department reviewers have not declassified were passed on to CIA for its concurrence. About 50 percent of those documents contain CIA acronyms that are largely inconsequential. If the Department were authorized to declassify documents with such references the Department could expedite its declassification program. Such a policy decision would require the concurrence of CIA.
The Department has imposed exemptions on less than 1 percent of its historical records, and this is a commendable track record. There are a number of sound reasons for exempting documents particularly in instances involving foreign government information that the United States has implicitly or forrnally agreed to protect. Yet the most frequently invoked exemption category has been for protecting the conduct of foreign relations. OIG's interpretation of the Order is that in balancing current diplomatic relations with public openness the Department should usually opt to declassify documents except where the release of information would "seriously and demonstrably impair relations between the United States and a foreign government, or seriously and demonstrably undermine ongoing diplomatic activities of the United States." [E.O. 12958, Sec. 3.4(b)]
In OIG's view the Department has exempted some documents that did not meet the Order's established criterion of clearly establishing that current foreign policy would be seriously impaired by releasing such historical documents. Similarly OIG questions exempting documents that infer a relationship with a foreign government that has been known through unclassified sources by the U.S. government.
We recommend that the Department's Undersecretary for Management
2. Coordinate with senior CIA management to facilitate the declassification of documents which reference Agency phrases and acronyms, and
3. Reassess the Department's declassification guidelines and their application to facilitate the declassification of documents that are of questionable sensitivity.
DECLASSIFICATION EXEMPTION CATEGORIES
Information can be exempt from automatic declassification if when released it is expected to:
1. Reveal the identity of a confidential human source, or reveal information about the application of an intelligence source or method, or reveal the identity of a human source when the unauthorized disclosure of that source would clearly and demonstrably damage the national security interests of the United States.
2. Reveal information that would assist in the development or use of weapons of mass destruction.
3. Reveal information that would impair U.S. cyptologic systems or activities.
4. Reveal information that would impair the application of state of the art technology within a US weapon system.
5. Reveal actual U.S. military war plans that remain in effect.
6. Reveal information that would seriously and demonstrably impair relations between the United States and a foreign government, or seriously and demonstrably undermine ongoing diplomatic activities of the United States.
7. Reveal information that would clearly and demonstrably impair the current ability of U. S. Government officials to protect the President, Vice President, and other officials for whom protection services, in the interest of national security, are authorized.
8. Reveal information that would seriously and demonstrably impair current national security emergency preparedness plans.
9. Violate a statute, treaty, or international agreement.
United States Department of State
Assistant Secretary of State for Administration
Washington, DC 20520
September 4. 1998
TO: OIG/SIO - Mr. Jon A.. Wiant
FROM: A - Patrick F. Kennedy
SUBJECT: Draft OIG Report on Declassifying State Department Secrets
We are pleased that the OIG has acknowledged that the Department has been carrying out its systematic declassification program "in an exemplary fashion and is on target to meet the deadline established by the Order" (E.O. 12958). We have problems, however, with the three principal recommendations in the report:
1. That the Department use over complement foreign service officers to reduce the Department's reliance on retired annuitants (WAEs) as declassifiers.
Comment: We have tried this track on several occasions over the past four years. The results were unsatisfactory. FSOs overseas without an on ward assigment, and thus without travel orders, were willing to accept a short tour assignment with RPS to get to Washington, but it was little mote than a ruse in some cases. Most of some 20 unassigned or over complement FSOs, whether from overseas or already in Washington, placed on short tours in the RPS area, did not regard the experience as career-enhancing. For most it was a holding pattern and they spent much of their time lobbying for a better assignment or preparing for retirement. In fact, most were re-assigned or decided to retire after a relatively short period, although it usually takes two months of on-the-job training before a reviewer is up to par. The resulting productivity was considerably less than might have been expected in an ideal world and was disruptive of the overall process.
We ordinarily keep a roster of about 200 retirees, each cleared by at least two bureaus, and each accustomed to working closely with bureau officers on clearances and guidance. We established these resources so that we could immediately answer the many time-sensitive, critical demands levied on us from Congressional and other investigative sources while also dealing with crucial FOIA backlog, mandatory and systematic review work, as well as legislative-mandated deadlines for the FRUS series (Foreign Relations of the U.S.) In the case of some special, high-priority projects dealing with Central America and Mexico, we virtually exhausted our base of retirees with area experience. In short, we need the flexibility provided by large numbers of qualified, experienced people in order to respond to shifting Department priorities and meanwhile satisfy the longer-term requirements. The OIG report did not focus on the totality of our declassification programs and examined only our systematic review process, the review of 25 year and older records required under the Executive Order.
We would, however be pleased to work closely with the Bureau of Personnel to identify officers suitable for and genuinely committed to one-year assignments as declassification reviewers. A commitment to a year of full-time work is essential.
2. That the Under Secretary for Management coordinate with senior CIA management to facilitate the declassification of documents which reference agency phrases and acronyms.
Comment: RPS and other Department entities such as the Historian's office have been engaged virtually on a daily basis with CIA, directly and through various inter-agency groups, to iron out declassification issues and to simplify and accelerate the process. The Department's Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) has become deeply involved. CIA is increasingly sensitive about public criticism of its declassification record and some modest progress is being made. Our own criticism of CIA, however, must remain objective and fair if further progress is to be achieved. It is both unfair and inaccurate to publish the report's sweeping generalization that half the one million pages of documents referred to CIA are basically innocuous and could be released with a State-CIA agreement on CIA acronyms. This conjecture seems based more on anecdotal evidence than rigorous analysis.
3. That the Department reassess its declassification guidelines and their application to facilitate the declassification of documents that are of questionable sensitivity.Comment: The report's examples of unjustified exemptions have been compressed and simplified to make a point, and an exaggerated one at that. Holding back only six tenths of one percent of all reviewed documents is a remarkable record, which no one in the Department would have predicted when the Executive Order was issued. The report's over-all recommendation, however, is a reasonable one. We should continue to update guidance. In this connection, we would be happier if the report had mentioned that in March 1998 we provided new guidelines (and now delegations of authority) for the Archives and Presidential Libraries which have been well-received by the users and which should speed the over-all declassification process. These guidelines make it abundantly clear, moreover, that we will not exempt documents merely to save the U.S. from embarrassment, contrary to a claim made in the draft OIG report.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
A Bureau of Administration CIA Central Intelligence Agency EO Executive Order FOIA Freedom of Idormation Act HAC Secretary of State's Historical Advisory Committee AIRPS/IPS Records and Publishing Services Office of Information Resources Program and Services ISOO Information Security Oversight office NARA National Archives and Records Adamstration OIG Office of Inspector General PA Bureau of Public Affairs PER Bureau of Personnel RSC Regional Services Center SEATO South East Asian Treaty Organization