from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
November 20, 2000


In a new paper on “Openness and the CIA,” historian Warren F. Kimball attempts to engage intelligence officials in a discussion of first principles concerning intelligence and declassification policy.

"Secrecy should not be a habit, but a matter of principle, practicality, and plain old common sense," Kimball suggests.

The paper was published earlier this year in the classified edition of CIA’s in-house journal Studies in Intelligence. It is available here:

Meanwhile, the CIA has succeeded in forcing the State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee to withhold publication of the Committee’s meeting minutes, in a seeming violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

The minutes of the Committee’s quarterly meetings have until now served as an invaluable window on the latest debates over declassification of historical documentation. In fact, they have been so valuable that the CIA has regularly protested their publication, especially after they became available on the world wide web:

Disappointingly, the Committee has finally yielded to the CIA and has withheld the minutes of its July 2000 meeting. An eviscerated "summary" version of the meeting minutes which complies with the CIA’s dictates is said to be in preparation.


Government documents do not only record the conduct of foreign relations. Increasingly, declassified documents are becoming the stuff of diplomacy itself.

In his visit to Vietnam last week, President Clinton delivered some 350,000 pages of U.S. government documents to Vietnamese President Luong.

"This is now the second installment of documents that were provided to the Vietnamese, just as they have provided us with hundreds of thousands of documents," said national security adviser Samuel R. Berger on Friday.

The document exchange is intended to facilitate the location and identification of remains of missing soldiers from the Vietnam War era. See excerpts from the Berger press briefing here:

Also on Friday, the State Department announced that in response to requests from Argentina and Spain, Secretary Albright "has instructed relevant Department personnel to identify for declassification and release State Department documents related to human rights violations committed in Argentina during the 1976-to-1983 military dictatorship."

See the State Department press statement here:


James Russell Wiggins, an editor at the Washington Post from 1947 to 1968 who died yesterday at age 96, was an early and insightful critic of the cold war secrecy system.

His 1956 book "Freedom or Secrecy" closed with the following passage:

"A government that generally asserts the right to say which of its acts may be divulged and which must be concealed exercises a power that tends to tyranny whatever its outward form. It has the power to enforce acceptance of its policies by exaggerating their merits and distorting their disadvantages. It has the means of concealing its crimes and derelictions and exaggerating its virtues and its triumphs. It possesses a device for accomplishing that greatest of all corruptions -- the corruption of the mind of the public itself. A people, so corrupted, is a people no longer free, whatever the form and structure of its governmental agencies. It is in this sense that we are confronted with a choice between secrecy and freedom."

J. Russell Wiggins’ obituary in the Washington Post may be found here:


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