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Inside the Pentagon
(reprinted by permission)
April 6, 2000


The CIA's records management program suffers from "serious shortcomings" that put at risk the agency's ability to preserve historically significant information, according to the National Archives and Records Administration.

Among those shortcomings is CIA's system of preserving electronic records, for which the agency does not have "approved schedules" for management; without them, NARA states, "there is a serious risk that information of great value will not be preserved."

The report also faults CIA's management and disposition of textual records, claiming current schedules "do not reflect the fact that many of the most important CIA records, which were hitherto solely in paper form, are now created and maintained electronically. Some offices use short-term chronological files for documents that should be placed in program/policy files, while in other offices, staff regard the files they accumulate as non-record 'soft' files because, they believe, the information in their records is available elsewhere."

NARA wants CIA to turn over series of documents rather than submitting them piecemeal. Collections, the agency says, are essential if it is to "achieve proper intellectual control over its permanent holdings and also to meet the needs of researchers who want access to coherent blocks of organizational records, not artificially created collections."

The report was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists through the Freedom of Information Act. Steve Aftergood, who runs the FAS Project on Government Secrecy, said the report, which is dated March 2000, was largely completed a year ago, but the declassification process took nearly a year.

According to Aftergood, the report is especially noteworthy both for its caution on electronic records as well as its assertion that the 50-year deadline for the submission of CIA records to NARA -- the rest of the government must turn over records when are 30 years old -- is too long.

"With the end of the Cold War and the U.S. government's commitment to openness, CIA retention of permanent files for 50 years is no longer appropriate," the report states.

Aftergood agrees: 50 years, he says, "no longer makes sense, if it ever did." -- Daniel G. Dupont

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