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Back Channels: The Intelligence Community

By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 31, 1999; Page A11


THE DECLASSIFIEDS: Ever since the CIA embarked on a voluntary declassification program for historical documents back in 1992, the agency has declassified more than 1,000 documents about the Soviet Union. The papers include everything from a 1953 tome on the Soviet food-canning industry to a 1984 national intelligence estimate with a thriller title, "The Soviet Approach to Nuclear Winter."

But the agency may have done something even more valuable in recent weeks to aid Cold War scholars: It published lists of the declassified documents on its Web site.

The lists themselves make fascinating reading, revealing the depth of CIA scholarship into the communist empire. Some highlights, by year:

Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, lauds publication of the lists but wonders about the exact meaning of what the CIA calls its "voluntary" declassification program. A 1995 executive order signed by President Clinton requires declassification of information older than 25 years and other documents that no longer need to be kept secret.

"They are adhering to an increasingly self-serving standard, which keeps a lot of stuff unnecessarily classified," Aftergood said.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield responded that "no other nation's foreign intelligence agency has voluntarily released as much information about its past as has the CIA. Within the limitations imposed upon the director of central intelligence by law to protect intelligence sources and methods . . . we will build upon that record in the years ahead."

Vernon Loeb's e-mail address is [email protected]

Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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