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American Historical Association
400 A Street S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003

December 13, 1999

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Senate Russell Office Building - Room 464
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Moynihan,

I want to thank you for all of your work over the years to promote openness and to advocate the reform of the national security information system of classification and declassification. You have been one of the key champions in confronting "the culture of secrecy" that exists in many federal agencies.

It is thus with great regret that I must inform you that the American Historical Association, one of the organizations mentioned in the legislation, finds it necessary to oppose S. 1801, the Public Interest Declassification Act of 1999. Given the bill's emphasis on special declassification initiatives, or targeted declassification, as opposed to systematic declassification, the American Historical Association can not support S. 1801.

Historians have long placed at the top of our declassification reform agenda the need to systematically declassify complete office files, and not selected documents. This legislation would institutionalize the practice of special searches and would not, in practical ways, advance the imperative of agencies to declassify all but the most sensitive of their older records that are of historical significance. Therefore, we view this as a potentially harmful policy initiative.

The extremely important 1997 "Secrecy" report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy, which you chaired, stands as a wonderful tribute to your leadership on this issue. We understand that in this political climate it is not possible for you to get passed the kind of declassification reform that the report recommended. Thus, we urge you to let the Commission's fine report stand as your legacy and not this weakened and flawed legislation.

I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this matter in greater detail.

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